The Alabama Crimson Tide had a mixed bag of play over the weekend when the hosted eighth ranked Arkansas at Sewell-Thomas Stadium. The Razorbacks won on Friday night by a 12-3 score before the Tide bounced back for a 10-0 whitewashing on Saturday. With the series on the line the Hogs bounced back and dispensed of the Tide 10-2. Bama falls to 19-6 overall and 2-4 in the SEC. Arkansas improves to 20-4, 5-1 in the SEC. The Hogs are a legitimate College World Series contender, with talent up and down the roster.
Game One: Lost 12-3
Friday night matched Arkansas ace Isaiah Campbell against the Tides Sam Finnerty. Both have been outstanding all year, but with different styles. Campbell is a big, strong, downhill thrower at 6’4” 235 pounds. In 30 innings entering the game he had walked only four batters and struck out 44. Finnerty is a savvy, veteran, and relies more on guile than on overpowering stuff. While Campbell touches mid 90’s with his fastball, Finnerty is more likely to sit around the 88-91 mph with his fastball.
In his two seasons as the Tide’s Friday night Finnerty you can almost always count on five to seven solid innings, with the team still in the game when he exists. On Friday night the Razorbacks had a different idea. Sophomore right fielder, Heston Kjerstad, a Freshman All American last season, touched Finnerty for a first inning home run to give the Hogs an early 1-0 lead. Things fell apart in the top of the second inning when Arkansas used five singles, a double, and a hit batter to plate six runs and put the game out of reach early. Finnerty was hit for two more doubles and one run in the third, before gutting his way through the fourth inning before leaving, on the wrong end of an 8-0 deficit.
In the bottom of the fifth the Tide looked to make a game of it when they loaded the bases on a John Trousdale single, a walk to Kolby Robinson, and a single by Kobe Morris. A long fly out by Joe Breaux ended the threat. Casey Cobb relieved Finnerty and ate four important innings up, saving the bullpen for the rest of the series. In his final inning of work, Cobb gave up a two run home run to Jacob Nesbit to stretch the lead to 10-0. Freshman Dylan Smith pitched the ninth for the Tide and was touched for two runs on three hits.
Bama finally broke through and scored in the ninth. T.J. Reeves walked and advanced on a Trousdale single. Drew Williamson drew a walk before Robinson drove in a run with a fielders choice. Johnny Hawk double to drive in a run, and one other scored on a wild pitch.
The Tide had seven hits, drew three walks, and stranded seven runners on base. Arkansas had 15 hits, drew one walk, and struck out 14 times, with four runners left on base.
Game Two: Won 10-0
Brock Love bounced back from his poor start against Ole Miss last week, and threw a career high 5.1 innings for the Tide. Brock Guffey followed with a career high of his own, throwing 2.2 important innings.
The Tide jumped out to an early lead on a Keith Holcombe home run in the second inning. The opposite field blast was the seniors third long ball of the season. A Kolby Robinson single with the bases loaded drove in two more runs and a 3-0 advantage after two innings.
Love was outstanding before being pulled with one out in the sixth. The redshirt junior allowed two hits, with three walks, and one strikeout. Guffey allowed two harmless singles with two strikeouts and no walks in his stint.
Alabama put the game out of reach in the sixth, sending 11 men to the plate and scoring six runs. The Tide used four singles, a double, three walks, and a sacrifice fly to score the runs. Holcombe had a double, and Brett Auerbach, Breaux, Tyler Gentry, and Robinson all added singles during the scoring deluge.
The Hogs never really threatened to score, and freshman right hander Conner Shamblin pitched the ninth and finished off the Tide’s fifth shut out of the season. Gentry had a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the eighth to score the last run of the game, a 10-0 Bama win. The win set up the rubber game of the series on Sunday for the second straight weekend.
The Tide had nine hits, drew seven walks, struck out twice, and left seven runners on base. The Hogs had four harmless hits, drew four walks, struck out four times. and left six runners on base.
Game Three: Lost 10-2
With the bullpen work by Cobb and Guffey on Friday and Saturday, the Tide was set up with plenty of arms on Sunday. Eight guys were available that had not thrown in the previous two days. Coach Brad Bohannon had a plan to use several of them in limited innings to show the Razorbacks a lot of different looks. Bohannon used six of them, and four of the six were touched up. Wil Freeman started and was behind after the second pitch of the game, as lead off man Casey Martin blasted a home run. After a scoreless second inning for Freeman, Kyle Cameron entered. Cameron was touched for two runs on three hits and a squeeze bunt.
Chase Lee was next out of the pen in the fourth, and quickly disposed of the Hogs with three straight strikeouts. The Tide finally scored in the bottom of the fourth, using two Razorback errors, a single by Reeves, and a Trousdale sacrifice fly. Lee typically only pitches one inning, but came back out in the fifth, and got roughed up. A hit batter, a double, and two singles to the first four batters chased the redshirt freshman from the game. Garrett Rukes replaced him and gave up a double, a sacrifice fly, and a single, before Davis Vainer came in to get a strikeout and a pop out to end the inning. The four runs charged to Lee were the first earned runs he has given up all season.
The Tide had a sliver of an opportunity to make a game of it in the seventh when the loaded the bases with two outs. Trousdale struck out to end the frame, and basically the Tides hopes in the game. Vainer went 2.2 score less innings with one hit allowed, one walk, and two strikeouts. Vainer has yet to allow a run this season in seven appearances, covering 13 innings. The Hogs tagged Deacon Medders for two runs in the eighth, highlighted by a Dominic Fletcher home run. Closer Jeremy Randolph needed work and pitched a perfect ninth with one strikeout for the Tide. Randolph also has not allowed a run in 13.2 inning this season.
Bama had five hits, drew five walks, struck out 10 times. and stranded 10 runners. The Hogs had 14 hits, drew four walks, struck out nine times, and left nine runners on base.
Who Did What?
With only 21 hits in three games, there wasn’t a lot of offensive fire power.
Kolby Robinson 4-13, two runs. four RBI
Tyler Gentry 3-11, two runs, RBI
Keith Holcombe 2-9, home run, double, two runs. RBI
Brock Love W (3-0), 5.1 IP 2 H 3 BB 1 K, no runs
Bohannon said earlier this week that he would know a lot more about his team after this weekend. Things are still a mixed bag. When the Tide plays well, they have shown they can hang with top 10 teams like Ole Miss and Arkansas. However, when they don't, their weaknesses show. The margin of error for the team is very narrow. There aren't a lot of three run home runs in the lineup to quickly score runs.
Although the depth and talent is improving, there are still some missing pieces. The pitching staff is right handed heavy, with only three left handers on the staff. Offensively, the team has a plethora of left handed hitters. Power is limited, and there isn't a ton of speed on the base paths. The margin of error for victory is narrow, and the team must play clean games to have a chance.
That being said, the defense has been outstanding, and the bullpen has been much better than they showed this weekend. There is a lot to season left, but will not get any easier. The Tide has eight SEC series left, and all eight teams are ranked. To be competitive the starting pitchers will need to give them 5-6 good innings, the defense will need to continue to shine, and some clutch hitting will need to begin to show. The team leads a ton of runners on base, many in scoring position.
What’s Next ?
The dreaded Capital City Classic in Montgomery against #12 Auburn. The game is Tuesday at 6 p.m. and will be televised on the SEC Network. Freshman Tyler Ras likely will start on the mound for the Tide. Bama will travel to Gainesville to play #24 Florida on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
Mar 26 (Tue) 6 p.m. CT SEC Network vs Auburn, Montgomery, Ala. (Riverwalk Stadium)
Mar 29 (Fri) 5:30 p.m. CT SEC Network+ at Florida, Gainesville, Fla.
Mar 30 (Sat) 5:30 p.m. CT SEC Network+ at Florida, Gainesville, Fla.
Mar 31 (Sun) 12 p.m. CT SEC Network+ at Florida, Gainesville, Fla.