Although the Auburn Tigers came to Tuscaloosa ranked 25th in the country, many felt this was a very winnable series for the Tide. However, the Tigers had other ideas and completely outplayed the hosts in every way. Auburn looked vulnerable mainly because of a .199 batting average in SEC play entering the series, and the surprisingly strong pitching from the Alabama staff so far. Well, about that. The Tigers hit a robust .462 (46-121) over the three games, outscoring the Tide by a margin of 44-10. Pitching and defense have been a strong component of Brad Bohannon’s first team, but neither performed in the three games. Bad weather once again forced a double header, with Sunday’s game being pushed back to Saturday. This was the fifth time for that to happen this season.
Game One- Lost 19-5
With the likely number one pick in the 2018 MLB draft on the mound for the Tigers in junior Casey Mize, a low scoring, close game was expected. Mize entered the contest with video game numbers, 7-1 record, 2.00 ERA, with 37 hits, four walks and 88 strikeouts in 63 innings. Alabama countered with their Friday starter, bulldog Sam Finnerty. Finnerty can't match Mize’s 93-95 mph fastball and nasty breaking pitches, but has used control, toughness, and guile to keep the Tide in all the games he has started.
The game had an inauspicious start when AU shortstop Will Holland hit Finnerty’s first pitch of the game for a double. Two subsequent ground balls plated Holland for an early 1-0 lead. In the majority of Mize’s starts that has been enough for the Tigers to win the game. When freshman Steven Williams took an elevated fastball from Finnerty out of the park to lead off the fourth, a 2-0 Auburn lead seemed insurmountable.
The Tide battled back in the bottom of the fourth, actually taking the lead. Jeaux Breaux led off with a single and advanced to third on a Chandler Avant double. Chandler Taylor walked to load the bases for Hunter Alexander, who quickly cleared the bases with a three run double. The very promising inning ended with a ground ball, a strikeout, and Alexander being picked off third base.
Finnerty got roughed up in the fifth on three singles, a catcher’s interference call, and a long three run home run by freshman Edouard Julien. With a 7-3 deficit the limited Tide offense would be hard pressed to be able to keep up, and they couldn't. Mize pitched through the fifth, and wasn't needed any further when the Tigers roughed up Davis Vainer for six runs in the sixth inning, followed by another five runs in the seventh off of Vainer and Mason Duke. The Tide got a pinch hit home run from Cody Henry in the eighth to “cut” the lead to 18-5, but the Tigers answered with one in the top of the ninth for the final of 19-5.
Breaux and Sam Praytor had two hits each of the Tide’s total of nine. Bama also had four walks, struck out nine times, and left seven on base. Auburn had 18 hits, walked five times, struck out only four times and stranded seven runners. Eight Tiger hitters had at least two hits in the game. ‘Bama hit Mize “harder” than anyone had all year with five hits and three runs, and drawing two walks in his five innings. Mize struck out eight in his time on the mound.
Before the game, if coach Brad Bohannon had been told his team would have nine hits and five runs with Mize pitching, he would have taken it and felt good about his chances.
Game Two- Lost 5-0
Jake Walters faced off with freshman Tanner Burns in game two of the series at 5 p.m. on Saturday, in game one of a double header. Burns, a former Mr Baseball in Alabama, had been a long time Alabama commitment under previous coach Mitch Gaspard. When Greg Goff replaced Gaspard prior to the 2017 season Burns was lured to Auburn by their lead recruiter, Brad Bohannon. In a cruel twist of fate Bohannon ended up as the Tide head man when Goff was let go in June of 2017.
Walters was good, but Burns was better, mixing a mid 90’s fastball with crisp off speed pitches which the Tide could not cope with. The Tigers got the only run they needed in the third on a single, two walks, and an error. After two quick outs in the fifth AU rallied with an infield single, stolen base, and two more run scoring hits for a 3-0 lead.
The senior, Walters, pitched into the seventh inning and was replaced after a single and walk began the inning. Dylan Duarte replaced Walters and limited the damage to one run. Facing a 4-0 deficit in the bottom of the eighth, the Tide loaded the bases after two were out. Cobie Vance singled, advancing to third on a Jeaux Breaux double. Chandler Avant loaded the bases with a walk, bringing the Tide’s best power hitter, Chandler Taylor, to the plate with a chance to tie the game. On a 1-2 pitch Taylor drove a long fly ball to left, that was caught at the base of the wall, effectively ending any chance Bama had.
The Tigers added an insurance run off of Duarte in the ninth with a single, stolen base, sacrifice bunt, and RBI hit. Sam Gardner came in to pitch with the bases loaded and got a home to first double play to end the inning. The Tide went quietly in the ninth and ended up on the bad end of a 5-0 score.
Bama had six hits, two walks, 11 strikeouts, and left eight on base. Auburn had nine hits, drew six walks, struck out nine times and left nine on base. Walters pitched six full innings allowing five hits with four runs, three earned, with two walks and seven strikeouts. Burns got the win with seven innings, four hits, one walk and seven strikeouts in a dominating performance.
Game Three- Lost 20-5
Wow, this one got out of hand in so many ways. Bama went with their normal Sunday starter, pitch count Garret Rukes. Rukes is being limited to around 40-45 pitches per start after Tommy John surgery last season. Auburn went with “TBA”, who turned out to be senior left hander Andrew Mitchell. The Tigers used four hits and a sacrifice fly to plate three runs in the third, and took the 3-0 lead into the fourth.
Kyle Cameron always follows Rukes, and had been outstanding in the roll all season, typically pitching 3-4 innings each outing, with outstanding results. However, this was not to be his day. Cameron retired the first batter he faced, but then gave up a single, double, double, home run, and single in order before being replaced by Brock Guffey. Entering the game Cameron had only allowed five earned runs all season, and the Tigers doubled that number in only one-third of an inning. Guffey stoped the bleeding, helped by an unusual double play that went short to second to first to home to end the inning.
The Tide finally got to Mitchell in the fifth, and almost got back in the game, scoring four times. A two run double by Keith Holcombe and a two run single from Chandler Avant were the big blows in the frame. Bama had runners on second and third with only one out, but missed a chance to draw closer by stranding them both. UA drew closer in the sixth when Jett Manning doubled and scored on a single by Cobie Vance, making the score a manageable 9-5.
Things got interesting in the top of the seventh when coach Brad Bohannon had enough of the questionable umpiring, particularly behind the plate. All series long (hell, all season) the ineptness of the SEC umpires drew the ire of the team and the fans. Bohannon finally had enough, and after another perfect pitch was called a ball, exploded. Rabbit eared umpire Michael Banks immediately turned and tossed the coach. Bohannon didn't take that well and sprinted on the field in a manner that pine tar bat George Brett would have been proud. (Google it young people, it was epic.)
The Tide called on closer Deacon Medders in the sixth, and he kept the Tide close until a disastrous eighth inning. Medders had allowed only one earned run all season entering the game. The Tigers hit his with six hits and six runs (five earned) in only 2.1 innings pitched. Tyler Adams and Connor Stutts followed Medders in the inning, and when the nightmare was over, 14 batters had come to the plate, six hits had been garnered, four walks were drawn, one batter was hit, and 11 runs had crossed the plate.
In the game Alabama had seven hits, drew six walks, struck out nine times, and stranded seven runners. Auburn had 19 hits, drew nine walks, and stranded six runners. Vance was the only Tide player with more than one hits in the game, going 2-5 with a run and RBI.
Who Did What?
Jeaux Breaux 4-12, 2 runs, BB, HBP
Cobie Vance 4-13, 2 RBI, Run
Jett Manning 3-10, double, 2 BB, Run
Chandler Avant 3-12, 2 runs, 2 RBI, Double, BB
Hunter Alexander 2-9, 3 RBI, Double, Triple, 2 BB
Auburn came into the series hitting a league low .199 in SEC play. After a 46-121 (.462) weekend that average is now .236. Everything that could go wrong for the Tide did. Defense failed them with six errors, the pitching was blasted, base running was bad, and the hitting dismal, 22-99 (.222 average). If you are looking for a silver lining, Brad Bohannon recruited the majority of the Auburn roster. Five freshmen he brought in for this season had a big impact on this series. Edouard Julien, Steven Williams, and Judd Ward combined to go 12-30 with three home runs, 17 runs driven in, and 14 runs scored. Freshman pitchers Tanner Burns and Cody Greenhill were outstanding as well. Burns pitched seven innings of four hit, shut out ball, and Greenhill went two scoreless innings with four strikeouts.
It is going to take one to two years, but Bama will soon have those types of impact players arriving on campus. The Tide has only three freshman, starting catcher Sam Praytor, relief pitcher Brock Guffey, and seldom used pitcher Brady Greene. Next years class will bring in some elite talent, and the one after that should fill the coffers with a full SEC roster. Be patient, the Tide has the right man in place. and the wins will eventually follow. Early in the season the team over achieved, and has notably regressed in the last couple of weeks. Thats the ebb and flow of a long season, but the team hopes to finish strong.
Troy at home Tuesday night at 6 p.m on SEC Network Plus, followed by a road trip to 4th ranked Arkansas on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Game times are 6:30 p.m., 6 p.m., and 1 p.m. Even one victory in Fayetteville should be considered a victory.
Roll Tide, Bama Baseball Fever, Catch It
Follow @rogerpatmyers on Twitter for live updates