The 22nd ranked Alabama Crimson Tide and the 2nd ranked Florida Gators opened SEC play on Thursday night in Gainesville. The series was condensed to two days when the weather forecast for Saturday was not favorable. The teams played a 6 p.m. game on Thursday night and a double header starting at 2:30 on Friday.
The Tide went toe to toe with the powerful Gators, but came up on the short end of the series, losing the first two games late, before bouncing back to grab game three.
Game one was a 3-0 defeat for Alabama, game two was a heartbreaking 8-7 walk-off loss, before game three finally went in the Tide’s favor, 6-3.
Bama is now 17-4, 1-2 in the SEC, while the Gators improved to 18-4, 2-1 in conference play.
Game One: Lost 3-0
With nine games over an 11-day period, and injuries to some pitchers, the Tide’s rotation was in a bit of a pickle. Coach Brad Bohannon choose sophomore Hagan Banks to start for Bama against Florida ace Brandon Sproat. Banks, making his first start of the season acquitted himself quite well, not allowing a single run in 3.1 innings pitched.
Jim Jarvis was in the leadoff spot for the Tide and opened the game being hit by a pitch. Sproat induced a double play ball to short and then a strikeout to end the first. In the second inning the Tide had their best, and truthfuly only, chance to score in the game. With two outs Ed Johnson singled for Bama’s only hit of the game. Colby Shelton then walked to put two runners on. Tommy Seidl hit a hard shot toward third base that would have scored two runs if it got by. However, Gator third baseman Colby Halter made a great play on the ball and stepped on the bag for the third out.
With one out in the 4th Hunter Furtado replaced Banks on the mound. Furtado proceeded to retire seven straight batters before running into trouble in the bottom of the 6th. With two outs lead off man Michael Robertson walked to bring up freshman Cade Kurland. Kurland is the second baseman for the Gators and skipped his senior year of high school to enroll early. On a 1-0 pitch Kurland hit a ball on a line to left field that scraped the top of the wall and skipped over the fence for a two run home run.
In the top of the 6th the Tide got their last base runner of the game when Will Hodo walked. Florida added an unneeded insurance run in the bottom half on a single, wild pitch, steal of third, and a swinging bunt back to the pitcher. With a 3-0 lead Sproat finished off the night retiring the last 10 batters he faced for the complete game. Sproat, he was a third round draft pick last year and turned down a million dollars to return to school, tossed a complete game one hitter with two walks, one hit batter, and eleven strikeouts. The right hander threw 106 pitches in the game and on pitch 98 was still delivering 98 mph strikes.
Sproat improved to 3-0 on the season. Furtado was tagged with the loss and is 0-1 after pitching 4.2 innings allowing two hits, two walks, and striking out four. Alabama batted 1-27 in the game with two walks and one hit batter. The Gators weren't much better at 3-26 with two walks, but got the big fly when needed to take the victory.
Game Two: lost 8-7
This was a heartbreaking walk-off loss for the Tide. Bama either led or was tied for the whole game until the bottom of the 9th.
Sophomore Ben Hess got the start on the mound against another 1st round talent for Florida. Left hander Jac Caglianone is the Shohei Ohtani of college baseball. Caglianone pitches, DH’s, and plays first base for the Gators. Entering the series the sophomore was hitting .403 with 13 home runs and 30 RBI, while sporting a 3-0 record on the mound with an ERA of 1.76.
In stark contrast to Thursday’s game, the wind was strongly blowing out in the contest. The Tide roughed up Caglianone right off the bat in the first inning. Jim Jarvis got things started with a walk, followed by a single from Will Hodo. With one out Drew Williamson crushed an opposite field three run home run to put the Tide up early.
The Gators answered back in the bottom half. With two outs, after a hit batter and single, Florida catcher BT Rioplle blasted a three run home run of his own to tie the game up. Bama retook the lead in the second when Hodo singled in Caden Rose, who had reached on a fielders choice and advanced on a single by Jarvis.
Alabama added another run in the 5th when Williamson doubled home Hodo who had walked. With the score 5-3 in favor of the Tide, Florida answered in the bottom half on a solo home run by freshman second baseman Cade Kurland. Gator shortstop Josh Rivera hit a long ball of his own in the bottom of the 6th to tie the game at five apiece. In the 7th Bama regained the lead on yet another RBI hit from Williamson.
Again, UF answered, this time on a double by Tyler Shelnut and RBI single by Michael Robertson. With one out in the 7th Hess was replaced on the mound by freshman Riley Quick, who got the final two outs to keep the game tied.
In the 8th, Bama freshman phenom Colby Shelton smoked his 11th home run of the season to right field to give the Tide the 7-6 lead. Quick got through the 8th inning allowing only a single, leading to the 9th. The Tide got a single from Williamson and a walk to Ed Johnson in the top half but couldn’t get either home. Will Portera had entered the game at third base as a defensive replacement for Shelton and came to bat with two outs in the frame. Portera just missed home runs on consecutive pitches when his drives went just foul. With a 3-2 count the utility man struck out to send the game to the bottom of the 9th with a 7-6 Tide lead.
Quick was back out for the 9th for Alabama. On a 1-0 pitch Colby Halter hit an opposite field home run to tie the game at 7-7. Robertson then single and advanced on a controversial hit by pitch to Kurland. Kurland appeared to lean into the pitch and the Tide appealed the call. After review Kurland was allowed to remain on base. After a fielders choice for out one Rivera hit a dribbler to the left of the mound and Robertson was able to scoot home with the winning run.
Alabama hit 10-36 in the game with five walks, a hit batter, 10 strikeouts, and nine men left on base. The Gators finished 12-36 with one walk, two hit batters, nine strikeouts, and five men left on base. Quick suffered the loss and is 0-1 on the season while Phillip Abner got the victory and is 1-0. Williamson finished 4-5 with a home run, double, five RBI, and a run scored. Hodo was 3-4 with a walk and three runs scored and one driven in. Jarvis was 2-4 with a double and walk. Hess pitched a career high 6.1 innings, allowing eight hits, six runs, with no walks and eight strikeouts.
Game Three: Won 6-3
With their backs to the wall and on the heels of a heartbreaking loss, the Tide could have folded up and mailed in the second game of Friday’s double header. Just 45 minutes after being walked-off, Bama was back on the field to face the Gators again. Left hander Grayson Hitt took the mound for the Tide against the Florida’s third rotational starter that is expected to be a first rounder, Hurston Waldrep.
Like game one, the Tide started hot by again scoring three first inning runs. Jim Jarvis and Ed Johnson both walked to begin play. The red hot Drew Williamson then singled to score Jarvis. Johnson scored on a passed wall and with two outs Andrew Pinckney singled to score Williamson,
Again, the Gators answered. In the bottom of the first Florida shortstop Josh Rivera, another first round talent, hit a two run home run to cut the lead to 3-2. Alabama left fielder Tommy Seidl got that run back in the top of the second with a laser shot over the left field wall for his third long ball of the season.
With the score 4-2 Hitt settled in and held the Gators scoreless for the next 4.2 innings before being relieved by Zane Probst with two out in the 6th. Probst got a pop out from Ty Evans to close out the inning. In the bottom of the 7th Probst ran into trouble when three straight one out singles plated a run for the Gators. Red shirt right hander Kade Woods was called in and struck out Cade Kurland to end the threat.
Bama added some insurance in the top of the 8th. Pinckney led off with a single and with one out trotted home on a mammoth home run off the bat of Caden Rose. The blast was Rose’s third of the season and set the Tide up with a 6-3 lead. Woods made sure that was enough. Flashing a 96 mph fast ball and 84 mph off speed pitch the electric Woods struck out the side in the 8th and the 9th to secure the victory. Woods faced seven batters and struck out seven batters, two looking and five swinging.
Alabama hit 10-37 in the game with four walks, 14 strikeouts, and eight men left on base. Seidl led the way with his 2-4 day with a home run. Johnson finished 2-4 with a walk and a run scored. Rose drove in two and was 1-3 with his home run and a walk. Florida was 7-31 in the game with four walks, 12 strikeouts, and five men left on base. In the series the Tide hit 21-100 for a .210 average with 11 walks, two hit batters, 35 strikeouts, and 20 left on base. Florida hit 22-93 for a .236 average, with seven walks, two hit batters, 27 strikeouts and 11 men left on base. The two teams entered the weekend with averages of .352 to lead the league.
Hitt improved to 3-1 after pitching 5.2 innings, allowing four hits, four walks, and five strikeouts with two earned runs. Woods earned his first career save with 2.2 perfect innings. Waldrep fell to 3-1 for the Gators.
Who Did What ?
*Drew Williamson 5-13, 6 RBI, home run, double, two runs
*Jim Jarvis 3-10, 3 walks, hit by pitch, double, two runs
*Ed Johnson 3-11, two walks, run
*Will Hodo 3-13, 3 runs, walk, run
*Grayson Hitt W (3-1) 5.2 IP, 4 H, 4 BB, 5 strikeouts
*Kade Woods Save (1) 2.2 IP seven batters faced, seven strikeouts
The Tide went toe to toe with arguably the best team in the country and didn't blink. Thursday night, there was nothing they could do with Brandon Sprout. In fact there are very few teams in the country that could have. On Friday, to bounce back and score quickly showed the team was up to the challenge, and game one could have just as easily ended in Bama’s favor.
The team doesn't have quite as many weapons as other teams in the conference, but the ones they do have can be successful. Obviously you don't want to ever lose a series, but at least one win was paramount for the weekend.
Going forward the team needs to continue to win the games they are suppose to win, and grab wins against top-rated teams as they can. Given Florida’s rotation and their explosive lineup, I fully expect them to be in the mix for Omaha and the College World Series at the end of the year.
Up Next: The Tide will host the Birmingham Blazers on Tuesday at 6 p.m. and then welcome the Kentucky Wildcats to The Joe for a three-game weekend series.
The games are scheduled for 6 p.m on Friday, 2 p.m. on Saturday, and 2 p.m. on Sunday. The Sunday game will be on the SEC Network, and all the others will be available on SEC Network Plus.
Bama Baseball Fever, Catch it!