The Crimson Tide baseball team entered the weekend in the midst of a seven game losing streak and facing the sixth ranked team in the country, the Kentucky Wildcats. The Tide used stellar pitching and timely hitting to take the first two games of the series, before falling in game three on Sunday. ‘Bama won on Friday and Saturday by identical 4-2 scores before falling in the series finale by a score of 5-2. The pitching staff did a remarkable job against one of the nation’s leading offensive teams. UK entered the weekend with a team batting average of .328, 46 home runs, and almost nine runs per game. The Tide staff held the slugging Cats to nine total runs in three games.
Game One- Won 4-2
Tide Friday night starter Sam Finnerty matched up with last year’s SEC pitcher of the year, giant 6’11’ right hander Sean Hjelle. Hjelle was recruited to Lexington by Alabama head coach Brad Bohannon, and is expected to be a high pick in this summer’s MLB draft. Finnerty, at 6’0”, might not have gone eye to eye with Hjelle, but he sure went toe to toe with the stud arm of the Cats.
UK got on the board first, in the second inning, after a leadoff single and an error by ‘Bama shortstop Jett Manning on a tailor made double play ball. After two strikeouts Finnerty allowed an RBI single to Cats’ shortstop Trey Dawson for an early 1-0 deficit. The Tide bounced back in the bottom of the frame, taking a 2-1 lead with some timely hitting that had been missing for the last couple of weeks. Chandler Avant led off with a single and scored on a stand up triple by Jeaux Breaux. Hunter Alexander then did exactly what he was supposed to do - hit a ground ball to the second baseman - which allowed Breaux to score.
‘Bama added to the lead in the third after Cobie Vance’s single and Chandler Taylor’s double put runners on second and third with one out. Once again the situational hitting that has been lacking came through. Avant mimicked Alexander and grounded to the second baseman, allowing Vance to score for a 3-1 lead.
Finnerty was dodging trouble along the way and received a big boost when Breaux threw out a runner at third with one out and two on in the top of the third. Finnerty stranded two runners on base in the fourth and the fifth before allowing a one out home run to Kole Cottam in the sixth inning. After a two out walk freshman lefty Brock Guffey entered and got a ground ball to end the inning. Guffey threw a perfect seventh before the Tide added an insurance run in the bottom of the inning. Sam Praytor singled and advanced to second on a perfect sac bunt by Manning, then raced home on a two out single by Vance. Two out hits with runners in scoring position have been another stumbling block for the Tide.
Deacon Medders entered in the eighth and after allowing a lead off single, got a slick double play from Avant and Manning and a ground ball to end the inning. ‘Bama had a chance to add to the lead in the eighth after Breaux doubled and tried to score on a double by Alexander. A perfect throw nailed the speedy Texan at the plate.
Medders struck out the side in the ninth to earn his third save of the season, as the Tide won 4-2. Finnerty was the winner, and Hjele was the loser. ‘Bama had 11 hits, and strangely did not walk or get hit by a pitch, while striking out seven times and standing six runners. The Cats collected nine hits, drew three walks, struck out six times and stranded seven runners. Alexander led the offense with three hits while Breaux, Vance, and Praytor had two each. The crowd was the largest of the season with 4,400 people in attendance.
Game Two- Won 4-2
Wildcat pitcher Zack Haake and Alabama’s Jake Walters locked up in an old fashioned pitching duel on Saturday afternoon. Haake is a 6’4” right hander that was throwing 94-95 mph all day with a wipe out slider. Walters is the Tide’s senior leader who has been through the wars. Walters pitched his best game of the season, and was clocked consistently at 91-93 mph.
Walters walked a runner and gave up a double in the second, but got out of trouble on a strikeout - hitter’s interference double play. After that the Thompson High graduate didn't run into trouble until the seventh inning. A leadoff double by Luke Heyer and a seeing eye single by Kole Cottam scored the first run of the game.
Meanwhile Haake was putting himself in and out of trouble with walks, but had not allowed any hits through 6.2 innings. Jett Manning lined a ball off of Haake and beat the shortstop’s throw for the Tide’s first hit in the seventh.
Haake had only pitched 12 innings all year, and entered the eighth inning with 90 pitches thrown. The Tide, needing a run, got a leadoff walk from Walker McCleney, who was then sacrificed to second by Cobie Vance. After a groundout, Haake then walked Chandler Avant and Chandler Taylor to load the bases. With over 100 pitches thrown, and the bases loaded, Kentucky coach Nick Minigione choose to stay with his junior hurler. On a one-strike pitch Hunter Alexander lifted a high fly ball to left that cleared the fence for a grand slam and a 4-1 Alabama lead.
Dylan Duarte relieved Walters with one out in the eighth and began the ninth inning. A leadoff single was followed by a strikeout and two more singles to load the bases. Closer Deacon Medders was called in to save the game, and after a walk to force in a run, did just that with a strikeout and flyout to center for a 4-2 victory. Duarte was the winning pitcher while Medders earned his fourth save of the year.
The Tide won despite having only two hits in the game, but drew nine walks and left five runners on base. The Cats had 11 hits, walked twice, struck out 10 times and stranded eight base runners. Manning and Alexander had the only hits for ‘Bama while Walker McCleney walked three times and Chandler Taylor drew two walks and had a stolen base. Walters was outstanding and went a season high 7.1 innings, allowed seven hits, walked only one and struck out seven, and was touched for just one run.
Game Three- Lost 5-2
Having already clinched their first SEC series of the year, the Tide tried for the sweep on Sunday by sending left hander Garret Rukes to the mound. The Cats countered with 6’7” right hander Justin Lewis, who entered the game with a 4-2 record and 6.15 ERA.
The Tide took an early lead after one inning when Jeaux Breaux doubled and scored in front of Chandler Taylor’s 10th home run of the season. Taylor hit a deep fly to the opposite field that kept drifting and cleared the fence for a 2-0 lead.
Rukes, 11 months from Tommy John surgery, has been worked back slowly and has been on a strict pitch count. On Sunday his command eluded him, causing him to leave several balls up and out of the strike zone. He escaped two walks in the first, but allowed a leadoff home run to Kyle Cottam to start the second. After throwing two balls to the next batter his day was over early and Kyle Cameron entered the game.
Cameron kept them at bay into the sixth inning, when two doubles and an error tied the game. Brock Guffey relieved and got a strikeout and popout to end the threat with the score still tied. Through seven innings the Tide never threatened after their first inning home run. Wildcat outfielder Tristen Pompey led off the seventh with a line drive home run to left, while another run scored on a hit batter, an error, and a RBI single. The Cats added another insurance run in the top of the ninth off of Davis Vainer with two singles, a hit batter, and a sacrifice fly. ‘Bama stranded two runners in the eighth and went down in order in the ninth, losing 5-2.
Taylor was one of five players to get a single hit for the Tide, and his home run and two runs driven in provided all of the offense for his team. Cameron threw a career high 78 pitches over 4.1 innings, allowing six hits, with no walks and two strikeouts and only one run. Guffey was the losing pitcher, allowing two runs, only one earned. The Tide had five hits, drew two walks, struck out eight times and stranded five men. UK had 12 hits, three walks, seven strikeouts, and stranded 11 runners.
Winning their first SEC series after losing seven straight games is a huge step forward for the Tide. With an 18-11 overall record the team is only one win away from equaling last season’s total for the whole season. The pitching has been much better than anticipated and the hitting has been solid. This weekend the team did a much better job of clutch and situational hitting, and will need to continue to do so as the schedule toughens down the road.
Who Did What ?
- Hunter Alexander, 4-12, double, game winning Grand Slam, five RBI, run
- Chandler Taylor, 2-10, double, team leading 10th home run, two RBI, two runs, two walks, SB
- Jeaux Breaux, 3-10, double, triple, two runs, two walks,
- Cobie Vance, 3-10, walk, stolen base, run, RBI, sac bunt
- Sam Praytor, 3-9, walk, run
- Deacon Medders, two saves, 2.2 IP, four strikeouts
- Jake Walters, 7.1 IP, 7 H, 1 BB, 7 K, 1 Run
A Tuesday night game at home with Jacksonville State at 6 p.m. The Tide will then travel to Missouri to play three games at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, 2 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday. All four games will be available on SEC Network Plus.
Roll Tide, Bama Baseball Fever, Catch It
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