Coach Brad Bohannon and his Crimson Tide baseball team improved to 12-2 this season with victories on Tuesday, over the Birmingham Blazers , and Wednesday over the South Dakota State Jackrabbits.
Although happy to claim the wins, Bohannon was not entirely pleased with his team’s performance. Both games should have been out of reach early, but late inning woes led to angsty victories. Birmingham scored two in the top of the ninth, and had the tying run aboard before Jeremy Randolph shut the door on the Blazers. The South Dakota State team showed a ton of fight to score three times in the ninth to tie the Tide at four each. The teams battled through 14 innings before Bama could plate the winning run. Alabama defeated Birmingham 4-3, and prevailed over SDS 5-4 in extra innings.
Game One: Won 4-3
Birmingham brought a 9-3 squad to town on Tuesday to battle the Tide. The game was originally scheduled for 5 p.m., but because of the cold snap that hit the state, was moved to 3 p.m. Bama has only played four games this season at the originally scheduled time because of weather.
Left-hander Garrett Rukes got the start on the mound for the Tide and pitched three outstanding innings, allowing three singles, with no runs, no walks, and three strikeouts over his 40 pitch stint. Bama dented the scoreboard in the bottom of the third when John Trousdale led off with a double, advanced on a Jeaux Breaux single, and scored on an RBI fielders choice by Brett Auerbach. Tyler Gentry singled Auerbach in for the other run in the frame.
Rukes was followed by Davis Vainer he through two innings, allowing no hits, no walks, and striking out four. His slider was devastating and he kept it in the strike zone, which when he does, he is dangerous. Gentry struck again in the fifth, blasting his team leading fourth home run of the season. The Tide plated their last run in the seventh when Breaux led off with a triple and scored on a sacrifice fly by Morgan McCullough.
Kyle Cameron was touched for the Blazers first run in the sixth after a double and an RBI single. Chase Lee, then Casey Cobb were next on the hill. Cobb had a perfect eighth, but ran into trouble in the ninth when he walked the lead off hitter, allow a single, then walked the next man to load the bases with no outs. Grad transfer Jeremy Randolph came in to close the door and got a strikeout for out one. After a passed ball scored a run, a sacrifice fly to center field pulled the Blazers within one run. Randolph struck out Christian Waltman looking to end the game with the Tide on top, 4-3.
Bama had 10 hits, drew five walks, struck out 10 times, and stranded 10 runners on base. The Blazers had six hits, two walks, struck out 10 times, and stranded six runners. Rukes was the winning pitcher and his 1-0 on the year. Randolph earned his second save of the year.
Gentry was the big gun on offense, going 3-4, driving in two runs, and had his home run. Breaux was 3-5 with a triple, four other players collected one hit apiece.
Game Two: Won 5-4, 14 innings
The Jack Rabbits of South Dakota State were a late addition to the Tide schedule, replacing the Alabama State game that was rained out on February 20th. When the two teams couldn't find a date suitable to both schools, the Tide started searching for a game. The Rabbits were on a southern swing and had the same situation. The two talked, the date worked, and the game was scheduled. Once again the time was changed, from an original 6 p.m. first pitch to a 3 p.m. start.
Bama looked like they were going to put this game away early, and plenty of opportunity to do so. Gentry singled in one run in the first, and McCullough scored on passed ball for an early 2-0 lead for the Tide.
Freshman Tyler Ras was the starting pitcher and went the first four innings, allowing on three hits, with one walk, and two strikeouts and no runs allowed. The Tide added to the lead in the third when McCullough tripled and scored on an RBI ground out by Gentry. Another freshman, Conner Shamblin, followed Ras and allowed one unearned run in the fifth. Yet another freshman, Dylan Smith, was next on the mound and he last 1.2 innings, with one hit and one walk allowed.
Kolby Robinson singled in T.J. Reeves in the bottom of the fifth, but Bama had four hits in the innings, and the bases loaded with one out, and couldn't push any more runs across. With a 4-1 lead headed to the ninth, the Tide felt pretty confident in their chances. Freshman Jacob McNairy started the inning and then things started to unravel as he allowed a one-out double and two two-out singles before being replaced by Deacon Medders. Medders was greeted by a check swing, infield dribbler for a single. With the bases loaded Medders threw ball one to the next batter, and was replace by Jeremy Randolph. Randolph finished the walk off, with the tying run crossing the plate, then got a strikeout to strand the other three on base.
Randolph went three more innings before being replaced by Kyle Cameron to start the 13th inning. The Tide had several chances to end the game, but lack of execution and clutch hitting hindered the team. In the 11th Brett Auerbach led off with a single and Gene Wood was called on to pinch hit and bunt him over. However the bunt was to hard and Auerbach was forced at second. Trousdale followed with a single that would have scored the runner from second, had he been there. Walker McCleney was called on to squeeze bunt the run home to win the game, but his bunt went right back to the pitcher and Auerbach was out at the plate. Double plays in the 12th and 13th inning curtailed other great scoring chances for the Tide.
Randolph pitched 3.1 clutch innings, allowing one hit, one walk, and striking out five. Cameron pitched two excellent innings, allowing only one hit. In the bottom of the 14th Breaux started the inning with a long double to right centerfield. Robinson laid down an excellent sac bunt, advancing Breaux to third with one out. McCullough received an intentional walk, setting up the possibility of another double play. Gentry spoiled that strategy by lining a 2-2 pitch over shortstop and into left field for the game winning hit.
Cameron improved his record to 2-0 with the victory. Bama had 14 hits, three walks, three hits batters, and 13 runners left on base. The Jack Rabbits had 13 hits, drew five walks, struck out nine times, and also stranded 13 runners. Gentry again led the way, with his 3-7 night with two runs driven in. McCullough was 3-5 with two walks, and a triple. Breaux, Trousdale, and Robinson, all had two hits. Bama improved to 12-2, SDSU fell to 5-6. Gentry was the star of the midweek, going 6-11 with four RBI, with a home run. Breaux finished 5-12 with a double and a triple.
Once again, winning midweek games is a must. Although not pretty, the team gutted out the two games and took victories despite not playing their best or most inspired ball.
Bohannon stressed that the lack of execution will not win games as the team moves in to SEC play, and they must “play better baseball.” There have been several times through the early season when a productive out was all the team needed to score a run, and too often resulted in a pop up or strike out that didn't get the job done. Sometimes all you need is a ground ball to the second baseman or a fly ball to the outfield. The team needs to improve on this, as well as their bunting.
A 12-2 record is outstanding, and the pitching and defense have been good enough to keep the team in most of their games, however the offense is going to have to score more runs when given the opportunity.
Northern Kentucky comes to town this weekend for a three game series, with a 3 p.m. first pitch on Friday, 2 p.m. on Saturday game, and 1 p.m. Sunday.
All can be seen on the SEC Network Plus, Watch ESPN App. Don't be surprised if there ends up being a doubleheader, or times moved, as has been the norm this year. NKU is 1-8 on the year, and gives the Tide a great chance for a sweep (and a 15-2 start to the season).
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