The Alabama baseball season ended with a three game home series with Ole Miss, played on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday this week. As has been the case for most of the season, the Tide played close, tough games, and came up just short. The Rebels won the opener with a 3-2 victory, followed by the Tide winning 3-0 on Friday and Mississippi taking the rubber game on Saturday by a 10-8 margin. The Tide finished 27-29 on the year and 8-22 in conference play, an improvement over last seasons 19-34-1, 5-24-1 marks. Fourth ranked Ole Miss clinched the Western Division and second overall seed in the SEC Tournament, and are now 42-14, 18-12 on the year.
Game One: Lost 3-2
Sam Finnerty continued his role of taking on the highly rated prospects of the other team with his start on Thursday night. From Casey Mize to Konnor Pilkington to Blaine Knight, Finnerty has faced off with the best the country has to offer, and held his own. This week’s mound opponent was Ryan Rollison, a 6’3” lefty that turned down 1.5 million dollars out of high school to play for the Rebels.
In a close, hard fought battle, Ole Miss came out on top by a 3-2 score. The Rebels struck first with one run on three singles in the top of the second inning. The Tide answered when slugger Chandler Taylor blasted a no doubt home run deep into the night in the bottom half of the inning. A solo home run by Cole Zabowski gave Ole Miss a 2-1 lead in the fourth.
The Tide loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom of the fourth, but could only muster one run. Chandler Avant walked to lead off the frame and was followed by a single from Sam Praytor and a walk to Chandler Taylor. Jett Manning drove in the run with a fielders choice ground ball, and also reached base when the first baseman dropped the ball. However two strikeouts and a fly out stranded the bases loaded.
Finnerty allowed a one out double and a two out RBI single in the top of the sixth to plate the winning run for Ole Miss. The single by Will Golsan was of the infield variety, and was reviewed by the umpires, when it appeared that he was actually out. As has been the norm this season, Bama came out on the wrong end of the review, the play stuck, and the run scored.
The Tide had runners on second and third in the sixth, but could not get the tying run home, and then went nine up and nine down over the last three innings to lose another close game.
Bama had only the Taylor home run and Praytor single on the night, and added five walks and one hit batter. The Tide struck out 11 times and stranded eight runners. The Rebels had nine hits, drew one walk, struck out one times, and stranded six runners. FInnerty fell to 4-4 with the loss, tossing 5.2 innings, with eight hits allowed, zero walks and no strikeouts. Davis Vainer and Brock Guffey combined for 3.1 innings of one hit, scoreless baseball.
Game 2: Won 3-0
Jake Walters, Jake Walters, Jake Walters. You can't say it enough. On senior day, in his school record tying 52nd career start, Walters pitched the best game of his very fine career. Just last week we said the same thing when he went (at the time) a career high eight innings, allowing one run, in defeating the LSU Tigers. This week he did one better, firing a complete game, four hit, shutout at the fourth ranked team in the land.
In a classic pitching duel, the Rebels Brady Feigl matched zeros with Walters through five innings before the Tide broke though in the bottom off the sixth with a single run. Keith Holcombe led things off with a single and stole second base. Chandler Avant then singled to chase Holcombe to third. With Sam Praytor at the plate Avant and Holcombe pulled off a double steal with Holcombe scoring on the play. Avant broke for second and stopped half way down after drawing the throw. Holcombe was then able to take home, and Avant avoided the tag and was also safe, at second. Praytor singled and Chandler Taylor walked to load the bases, but a fielders choice at the plate and a double play prevented further damage.
Meanwhile Walters was mowing down the hard hitting Rebels inning after inning, and didn't run into trouble until the top of the eighth. A lead off double and sacrifice bunt put a runner on third with one out. Two hit batters followed to load the bases for Ole Miss. On the second hit batter freshman catcher Sam Praytor took a ball off of his throwing hand, causing a gruesome injury to one or more of his fingers. One of the players said “the bone was sticking out of the skin.” Walters bounced back to get a strikeout, and a long fly out to right field, just short of the fence, to end the inning.
The Tide added two insurance runs in the eighth on an RBI double by Taylor and a sacrifice fly by Hunter Alexander. After asking, and being denied, to try for the complete game last week against LSU, Walters was not going to be denied on this day. Ole Miss opened the top of the ninth with a strikeout and ground out to short before getting a two out single from Tyler Keenan. Walters then three three straight strikes past Michael Fitzsimmons for his seventh strikeout of the game, finishing the gem with four hits allowed, two walks, and three hit batters in 114 pitches. The complete game was the first for a Tide pitcher since Geoffrey Bramblett in the 2015 SEC Tournament.
Bama collected seven hits, with four walks and nine strikeouts, while stranding seven on base. On senior day Chandler Avant and Connor Short delivered two hits each, and fellow senior Walters was the biggest standout. Walters tied Mike Sodders in all time starts at Alabama with 52, and moved into third place all time in strikeouts with 292, passing Lance Cormier, but still trailing Wade LeBlanc and Brent Carter. Walters finished his career with an 18-18 overall mark and a 3.30 ERA.
Game Three: Lost 10-8
On a day that started out sunny, hot, and humid, lightning and rain moved in causing a two hour rain delay in the third inning. Garret Rukes started for the Tide against James McArthur of the Rebels.
Ole Miss used a two out, two run double in the top of the first to take the early lead. The Tide answered with one in the bottom half after Cobie Vance walks, advanced on a Keith Holcombe double, and scored on a sac fly from Chandler Avant. Connor Short tied things up in the bottom of the second with a solo home run, his first of the year. Short entered the weekend with only one hit in 17 at bats on the season.
Kyle Cameron replaced Rukes to start the third, and got roughed up, getting only one out and allowing a walk, four hits, including a home run, and four runs. Then the delay occurred, and two hours later when play resumed Dylan Duarte was on the mound. Duarte retired the next two batters to close the inning.
The Tide used fours and a Rebel error in the bottom of the third to score twice, but after loading the bases with only one out, could get no more. The Rebels scored one in the sixth to take a 7-4 advantage, but once again the Tide bounced back with two in the bottom half. A double play with two on and one out stopped the rally. The dreaded eighth inning bit the Tide again, as the Rebels scored three times on only two singles, helped by three walks and three wild pitches.
In the bottom of the eighth, facing a 10-6 deficit, the Tide fought back once again. After two quick outs Kyle Kaufman reached on a fielding error. Vance then launched what appeared to be his seventh home run of the season. The ball hit off the top of the wall, bounced up, and back into the field of play. After originally being called a home run it was ruled a double after official review. Avant then singled Vance in, and the lead was cut to 10-8.
The ninth had some drama for the Tide, and thing set up for a storybook ending, but alas, it wasn't meant to be. Matt Malkin was hit by a pitch to start things off, and after a fly out Jett Manning reached on catchers interference. Short came to the plate as the potential winning run, in a scenario straight out of central casting. The fifth year senior, a graduate, that is headed to seminary, who started his career at Auburn, endured the truly awful Sunny Golloway, transferred to Alabama, sat out a year, then played for three coaches in three years, (including another awful one), who battled injury after injury, and was barely used all year. When given a chance in the last two games of this season Short had responded with four hits, including a home run. Sometimes the fairy tales don't come true, Short went down on strikes, and when Connor Stutts followed suit, the season was over.
The Tide collected 14 hits, walked twice, struck out nine times, and stranded 10 runners. The Rebels had 12 hits, eight walks, six strikeouts, and left 10 on base. Vance and Keith Holcombe had three hits each, while Avant, Taylor and Short all had two safeties.
Who Did What?
- Jake Walters CG-W 9 IP 4 H 2 BB 7 K, shut out
- Chandler Avant 4-9, 3 walks, 2 runs, 2 RBI, SB
- Chandler Taylor 4-10, HR, 2 doubles, 2 RBI, 3 walks,
- Connor Short 4-8, HR, 2 runs, RBI
- Keith Holcombe 4-11, 2 RBI, Run, Double, Stolen Base (home)
- Cobie Vance 3-13, 3 Runs, Double, BB, SB,
New season, tons of new faces and a lot of hope.
I will follow this week with a season in review, what went wrong, what went right.
[ED. NOTE: The 2018 MLB Draft takes place from June 4-6]