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Alabama Baseball Slowed By Vanderbilt Behemoth

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The 5th ranked Vanderbilt Commodores came to Tuscaloosa and took all three games from the Tide this weekend. VU right fielder JJ Bleday slammed four home runs in the three games.

Drew Williamson

The Crimson Tide had their SEC losing streak stretched to seven games after being swept for the second weekend in a row. The fifth ranked Vanderbilt Commodores used their powerful bats to win by scored of 7-4, 13-5, and 2-0. Vanderbilt right fielder, JJ Bleday, is a leading contender for SEC and National Player of the Year. Bleday had four home runs in the three games and is now tied for the NCAA lead with 20 long balls on the season. He should be a high first round draft pick in MLB’s summer draft.

Bama fell to 24-17 overall and 4-14 in the SEC. Vanderbilt improved to 31-9, and 12-6 in league play.

Game One: Lost 7-4

Alabama’s Sam Finnerty took his normal Friday night turn in the rotation for the Tide, and was matched up against Drake Fellows of the Commodores. Fellows entered the game with a 7-0 record and a 3.18 ERA with 67 strikeouts in 52 innings. Finnerty entered with a 5-4 record and a 3.50 ERA. JJ Bleday blasted his 17th home run of the season in the top of the first inning for Vandy for an early 1-0 lead. The Tide actually took their only lead of the weekend in the second inning. Drew Williamson singled and scored ahead of Joe Breaux’s third home run of the year.

The one run lead was erased in the top of the fourth as Vanderbilt used a single, double, and sacrifice fly to tie the game at two each. The Commodores used two doubles and two singles in the fifth to score three times for a 5-4 lead. The Tide answered in the bottom of the fifth on a two run double from Morgan McCullough, and had a 5-4 deficit headed to the sixth. Finnerty walked the first man he faced in the top of the sixth and was replaced on the mound by Chase Lee. Vandy got the insurance run in after a single, an infield single, and a throwing error. Ethan Paul had a ninth inning home run to make the margin 7-4.

Fellows lasted seven innings, allowing six hits and four runs, all earned. Hugh Fisher and Tyler Brown followed with one scoreless inning apiece to secure the victory for the Dores. Fellows improved to 8-0 with the win and Brown earned his eighth save. Finnerty fell to 5-5 after allowing nine hits and six runs in five innings pitched. The Tide had six hits, walked three times, struck out 10 times, and left five runners on base. Vanderbilt had 14 hits, walked four times, struck out 12 times, and left nine runners on base. Keith Holcombe had two hits for Bama, while Breaux and McCullough drove in two runs each.

The Tide was never really out of the game, but couldn't put together hits and runs when they needed to throughout the game.

Game Two: Lost 13-5

Brock Love started on the mound for the Tide against big (6’4, 255 pounds) freshman Kumar Rocker for the Commodores. Rocker is a highly regarded prospect and should be a very high draft pick when he becomes eligible. The Athens, Georgia native is the son of former Auburn All-American defensive lineman Tracy Rocker. The senior Rocker was in the crowd on Saturday to see his son pitch. Rocker has an electric arm that bumps up to 97 miles an hour on the radar gun.

Vanderbilt again used the long ball to take an early lead. In the second inning their centerfielder Pat DeMarco put a ball over the wall in dead centerfield, a blast that went easily 400 plus feet. Bleday struck again in the third with a two run home run, giving the visitors a 5-0 lead. The Dores added another run in the fourth when Bleday’s two out fly ball was dropped in centerfield by T.J. Reeves, allowing Austin Martin to score.

The Tide cut into the lead in the fourth scoring after a walk to walk to McCullough, who advanced on a wild pitch and a ground out before scoring on a Brett Auerbach infield single. Bama cut into the lead in the fifth when Reeves drove in Kolby Robinson with a sacrifice fly to right field. With a 6-2 lead after five innings and 85 pitches, Rocker was replaced by Zach King. Bama made things interesting in the bottom of the sixth by scoring twice. Tyler Gentry led off with a single and moved up on a single by Auerbach and a wild pitch. Breaux singled to score Gentry and Auerbach slid across the plate on his belly after another wild pitch.

As good teams do, Vanderbilt answered. In the top of the seventh they scored three runs, highlighted by a two run home run from Ty Duvall. The Tide had no answer, and in the ninth the Commodores just piled on with two, two run home runs. Julian Infante launched one over the top of the scoreboard out into the law school parking lot. Bleday continued his big day with another monster shot two run homer to push the lead to 13-4. The Tide used another sac fly by Reeves in the ninth to make the final score 13-5.

Love fell to 4-3 on the year with the loss. Rocker improved to 4-4 in his freshman campaign. The Tide had six hits, drew five walks, got hit by three pitches, struck out four times, and left seven runners on base. VU had 14 hits, drew four walks, struck out 14 times, and stranded eight runners.

Game Three: Lost 2-0

Alabama closer Jeremy Randolph started the game for the first time of the year on Sunday. Randolph was going to be limited to around 50 pitches, and came out after 2.2 innings and 49 pitches in the game.

The Tide threatened in the first when McCullough lined a two out double, and advanced to third when Gentry reached on a fielding error. However a strikeout ended the threat. Randolph began the third inning by striking out the first two batters he faced. However, Bleday was the third hitter of the inning, and he sent Randolph to the showers after putting an opposite field shot off the scoreboard in left. His 20th home run of the season pushed Bleday to the top of the NCAA home run chart for the season.

Reliever Casey Cobb gave up a double and a single to score the only other run of the game following Bledy’s home run. Cobb left with the bases loaded and two outs in the third in favor of Brock Guffey who induced a ground out from Bleday to end the inning.

The Tide could never break through despite having a few scoring opportunities. In the fifth John Trousdale singled and Reeves hit a drive deep to right field that was hauled in a the base of the wall for out three. In the seventh Auerbach walked to lead off and Robinson was hit by pitch with one out, putting the tying run on base. A strikeout and fly out to centerfield thwarted that scoring chance. Lee followed Guffey on the mound and pitched 1.1 perfect innings before giving way to Deacon Medders, who had his longest, and best, outing of the year, going the final three innings, allowing one hit, walking two, and striking out seven.

Bama had three hits, walked four times, struck out four times, had one hit batters, and stranded eight runners. The Commodores had eight hits, four walks, one hit batters, 14 strikeouts, and left 10 on base. The Tide pitched well enough to win most games, but could not put anything together offensively, and fell 2-0.

Who Did What ?

The biggest impact was Medders. In two games, he pitched 4.2 innings, allowed three hits, walked three, struck out 11 and allowed one run. No hitter had more than two hits on the weekend, as the team finished 15-92 for a .163 team batting average.

Final Thoughts

Vanderbilt is very, very good. Alabama isn't there yet. Cold, hard, facts. The Commodores have “dudes”, guys that look and play the part. Big, strong, fast, athletic, all the attributes you look for in great baseball players. Vandy has 13 out of 15 pitchers on their roster standing 6’3’ or taller, while the Tide has four that fit that bill. The Commodore roster had representatives from 16 states and Canada. The Tide has 10 out of state players and three from Canada. As coach Brad Bohannon continues to recruit and build his roster he will be searching to bring the same type players into the fold. A plus from the weekend was the pitching on Sunday. In SEC play, the Tide has been outscored 29-17 on Fridays, 41-31 on Saturdays, and 118-62 on Sundays. The 2-0 loss was the most competitive game three of the year, other than a 5-4 extra inning loss to South Carolina.

The Tide plays hard, and plays good defense. The pitching has been good in spots. The offense has struggled in SEC play, hitting only .210 against the league and .262 overall. The pitching staff has an ERA of 3.85 overall but 6.42 in SEC play. Patience is needed as the Tide tries to catch up to the rest of the league. The coaching turmoil prior to Bohannon being hired put the Tide in a hole that is tough to dig out of. In the western division of the SEC, you have to be a top 20 team to not be in the basement, as all the other members are ranked. Being handcuffed by the scholarship limits, without a state lottery, and without border state help, like the other schools in the conference it is an uphill battle, but not impossible. That is without even getting into the advantages Vanderbilt can use as a private institution.

What’s Next ?

Wednesday the Tide travels to Jacksonville to play the Gamecocks in a 6 p.m. game. Over the weekend another highly ranked team comes to town, as LSU visits. The games are Friday at 6 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m., and Sunday at 1 p.m. The LSU games can be seen on the Watch ESPN App, SEC Network Plus.

Roll Tide, Bama Baseball Fever, Catch it

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