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Baseball opens SEC play, drops close series to Georgia

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All three games came down to the last inning, but stranded runners cost the Tide down the stretch

Roger Myers Birthday Foundation

In a thrilling three-game series to open SEC play, the Crimson Tide came up just short at Sewell Thomas Field this weekend.

‘Bama’s season-long issue of stranded base runners plagued the Tide all weekend, particularly with runners in scoring position — Alabama left 32 on base, including stranding an unreal 20 base runners on Friday night alone. Combined with slow starts, that likely cost the Tide the series.

Game One: UA 10 UGA 9 (13)

Starting a game down 5-0 before batting, striking out 21 times, committing four errors, and stranding 20 runners on base isn't the best recipe to win a game. However, somehow, the Tide overcame all of these things to win a thrilling 10-9 game in five hours and two minutes, and 13 innings.

Sam Finnerty took his normal Friday night turn in the rotation, and was the victim of some poor defense and bad luck in the top of the first inning. Five hits, and two errors helped lead to five first inning runs for the Dogs. One of the hits was a bloop single and one was a dribbler that looked to be going foul, but stayed on the line for an infield single. The Tide got one run back in the bottom of the frame on a no doubt blast by Chandler Taylor into the right field plaza. The home run was the seventh of the year for the junior outfielder.

Finnerty, and the defense, settled in the second, third, and fourth innings. Three singles in the third did load the bases, but Finnerty was able to get a fly ball out to end the threat. In the fifth UGA uses a lead off single and an RBI double to take a 6-1 lead. ‘Bama was able to cut into the margin in the fifth, plating three runs. Taylor led off with a single and stole second. The next two batters popped out before Chandler Avant singled Taylor home. Keith Holcombe singled and Sam Praytor walked before two runs scored on a single by Jett Manning.

In the top of the sixth Georgia added two more unearned runs after an error and a two run home run by Keegan McGovern. McGovern’s blast tied him with Taylor for seven on the season. Finnerty lasted through the sixth before Sam Gardner tossed a scoreless seventh inning.

‘Bama took the lead in the bottom of the seventh, exploding for five runs. Holcombe led off by being hit by a pitch and Matt Malkin added a single. With one out Cobie Vance hit an infield chopper on a hit and run and beat it out to load the bases. Cody Henry laced an RBI single and Taylor was hit by a pitch to reload the bases. Jeaux Breaux was hit by a pitch to drive in another run, and Avant drove in two more with a single.

Deacon Medders replaced Gardner and went the next three innings, allowing one unearned run in the eighth on a two out throwing error by Vance. Dylan Duarte entered to pitch the 11th and got in trouble in the 12th when the Dogs loaded the bases after two were out. The lefty got a ground ball out to strand the runners. Duarte had a perfect 13th, setting the table for the Tide to walk it off in the bottom half. Cobie Vance started things with a single, and John Trousdale put down a bunt, as a sacrifice, but beat it out for a hit. Taylor and Hunter Alexander were both out, bringing “Walk Off” Jeaux Breuax. Breaux chopped a single through the left side, sending Vance home with the winning run. The hit was Breaux second of the walk off variety this season.

The Tide had 19 hits, walked four times, reached base by being hit five times, struck out 21 times and made four errors. The Dogs had 16 hits, walked only once, and struck out seven times, while stranding 14 runners and making two errors. Vance was 3-7, Manning 3-6, and Taylor, Breaux, Avant, Holcombe, and Malkin all had two safeties apiece.

Game Two: UA 5 UGA 6

After spotting the Dogs five runs in the first inning to start game one, the Tide did improve on Saturday — ever so slightly. This time UGA was held to four first inning runs. Two singles, a double and two walks were allowed by starter Jake Walters in the first.

This time the Tide didn't answer, being handcuffed by freshman right-hander Emerson Hancock of the Bulldogs. Through seven innings ‘Bama had only one hit and had drawn three runs. Walters settled down, putting down 13 straight batters into the fifth inning. With two outs the Dogs had a bloop single to start a rally. Keegan McGovern then ripped a ball headed right to Cody Henry at first base on which would have been out three. However the ball hit the bag and ricocheted into right field for an RBI double. Michael Curry followed with an RBI single for a 6-0 lead.

In the eighth the Tide bats finally woke up and they ran Hancock from the game after the first three batters reached base. Connor Stutts started things by being hit by a pitch, Sam Praytor singled, and Jett Manning singled to load things up. Cobie Vance hit an RBI single to score the first run. Chandler Avant then excited the crowd with a long grand slam into the left field playground area. But, the Tide again stranded two runners, including one at third base to end the inning. ‘Bama went down in order in the ninth to even the series.

After having 19 hits in game one, the Tide was held to five hits, reached on five walks, and one hit batter. Five runners were stranded on base, and six batters struck out. UGA had nine hits, walked three times and stranded five runners. Avant had the only multi-hit game, including his second home run of the season. Vance, Keith Holcombe, and Sam Praytor had the other hits for the Tide.

Game Three: UA 5 UGA 6

Continuing to work his way back from Tommy Johns surgery that ended his 2017 season, Alabama turned to left-hander Garret Rukes for the Sunday rubber match. The staff has been cautious with Rukes, working on a pitch count early in the season. He had not allowed a run in his previous midweek starts this year. The Tide did improve in the first on Sunday, only allowing one run on one hit, two walks, and a wild pitch.

‘Bama battled back to tie the game in the fourth when Chandler Taylor literally hit a ball all the way out of the Joe. The ball landed on the last level of the right field plaza, and scooted out into the Coleman Coliseum parking lot. Rukes pitched two innings, followed by fellow Tommy Johns kid, Brock Love. Love threw one scoreless and was followed by Davis Vainer on the mound. The Dogs touched Vainer for three runs in the fifth on two walks and two hits.

The Tide drew closer in the bottom of the fifth, and wasted a great opportunity to tie or take the lead. Jett Manning started things off with a single, and advanced to third on a one out double by Cobie Vance. Jeaux Breaux drew a walk to load the bases, and Hunter Alexander was also hit to bring in a run. Taylor drew a walk for another RBI, and leaving the bases jammed. A pop out and ground ball ended the inning with the go ahead run at second base.

‘Bama had another golden opportunity in the seventh when they loaded the bases with no outs on a walk and two hit batters, and Taylor and Chandler Avant due at the plate. Taylor struck out and Avant hit the ball hard, but right at the shortstop, who turned a double play to thwart the Tide.

Kyle Cameron followed Vainer and had two clean innings before being hit for two unearned runs in the eighth. Cameron couldn't handle a toss from first baseman Cody Henry, giving the Dogs a runner on base. Catcher Mason Meadows then hit an opposite field two run homer to stretch the lead to 6-3.

The Tide made it interesting in the ninth, but fell just short. Sam Praytor led off with a single and Breaux doubled off the wall in left field. After a strikeout for out two, Taylor drew a walk and Avant hit a line drive two run single to cut the lead to 6-5. With two runners on, Keith Holcombe grounded out to first to end the game.

‘Bama had nine hits, drew five walks, and had four hit batters, while striking out six times and stranding 10 runners. The Dogs had eight hits, five walks, one hit batter, struck out seven times and stranded seven runners.

Avant and Praytor both had two hits in the game, and Avant and Taylor both drove in two runs. Vainer was the losing pitcher, dropping his record to 2-1.

The series was everything you want in a SEC series, three close, hard fought games. The Bulldogs just made one more play in two of the games to take the series. Expect most of the weekends going forward to hinge on the same thing.

Who Did What?

Chandler Avant 6-15, nine RBI, Grand Slam, two runs, BB

Cobie Vance 5-17, four runs, double, walk, HBP

Jett Manning 4-11, two RBI, two BB, two HBP, two runs

Sam Praytor 4-9, two walks, two runs

Chandler Taylor 3-12, two home runs, three RBI, three walks, two HBP

Jeux Beaux 3-13, double, two walks, two HBP, RBI, walk-off game-winning hit

Whats Next?

Alabama is now 16-5, 1-2 on the season, while UGA improved to 14-6, 2-1.

Road trips. The Tide will travel to Regions Field to take on the Birmingham University Blazers on Tuesday night. The Tide then takes hits the bus to open SEC road play in Knoxville on Friday, Saturday, Sunday. The Birmingham game is slated for a 6:30 p.m. start time. The UT game times are 5:30 p.m., 4 p.m. and 2 p.m. The Blazer game will be radio only, while the Tennessee games will be on SEC Network Plus on Friday and the SEC Network on Saturday and Sunday.