Close but no cigar again for the Tide. After opening SEC play in Gainesville last weekend and playing the 2nd ranked Florida Gators toe to toe, but losing two of three, Bama welcomed 22nd ranked Kentucky to Sewell-Thomas Stadium this weekend for a three game set. The Cats took a 12 inning thriller on Friday by a score of 4-3 and secured the series win on Saturday, winning 9-5. Game three on Sunday was another nail-biter with Bama prevailing 4-3. The Tide is now 19-6 overall and 2-4 in league play. The Wildcats are 21-3 overall and 5-1 in the SEC. Kentucky came into the weekend riding a 14 game winning streak, which was pushed out to 16 in a row until Sunday’s loss. The Cats won the series with an abundance of sac bunts, stolen bases, and overall aggressive play.
Game One- Lost 4-3 (12 innings)
Ben Hess took the mound for the Tide in game one, sliding up a spot from his Saturday slot he had manned for the first five weeks of the season. Hess got into trouble right off the bat. Jackson Gray doubled to lead off the game for UK, and scored when Jase Felker tried to sacrifice bunt, but beat it out for a hit and advanced all the way to third when Hess threw the ball wide of first for an error. Felker scored on a one out ground out by Emilien Pitre.
Hess settled down and retired the next eight men in order. In the top of the fourth the Cats again used small ball. Devin Burkes lead off with a single and moved up 90 feet on a sac bunt by Pitre. Hunter Gilliam singled to score Burkes and make the score 3-0 for the visitors.
Wildcat starting pitcher Logan Martin pitched the first two innings before being relieved by Darren Williams. Martin is working back from injury and was on a strict pitch count. In the bottom of the 5th the Tide finally got on the board. Drew Williamson led off with a single and moved up on a single by Ed Johnson. A wild pitch moved both runners up before Andrew Pinckney singled up the middle to score Williamson while Johnson was held up at third base. With runners on first and third Colby Shelton popped out to shortstop for out one before Mac Guscette grounded into a inning ending third to first double play.
Hess pitched 6.1 innings, allowing five hits and three runs, two of which were earned, walked one, and struck out 10 over 105 pitches. The 10 punch outs tied his career high set last year in the SEC Tournament against Georgia. The big righty from Illinois threw 105 pitches with 70 being strikes. After striking out the lead off man in the 7th Hess was replaced by Hagan Banks.
Banks pitched 2.2 scoreless innings, allowing three hits with no walks, two strikeouts, and no runs allowed. Facing a 3-1 deficit the Tide rallied to tie the game in the bottom of the 9th. Jim Jarvis started the frame with a single and advanced when Caden Rose also singled. Will Hodo singled to score Jarvis and Rose came home on his stomach to tie the game after a wild pitch. After a strikeout for the first out, Ed Johnson and Andrew Pinckney both walked to load the bases. Needing only a walk, hit batter, base hit, sac fly, wild pitch, etc to score the winning run, the Tide was left disappointed. Colby Shelton struck out for out two and Guscette flew out to right field to send the game to extra innings.
Braylon Myers took over on the mound in the 10th for Bama and had a perfect inning on three fly outs. The Tide went out in order in the bottom half and Myers got three straight in the 11th inning as well. Bama had a baserunner in the bottom half on a Williamson walk, but could not advance him. Myers came back out for the 12th and after a grounder to short for the first out hit Grant Smith with a pitch. A perfectly executed hit and run single by Gray put runners on 1st and 3rd. Riley Quick replaced Myers and before striking out Jase Felker, threw a wild pitch to score Smith. Quick also fanned Burkes to end the top half. The Tide went down 1-2-3 in the bottom half and Bama suffered the heartbreaking loss. Myers was the loser and fell to 0-1 on the season.
The Tide hit 6-40 in the game with five walks, struck out 12 times, committed two errors, and left 12 men on base. Pinckney and Hodo both had a run driven in and the six hits were spread over the first six men in the batting order. Kentucky hit 9-43 in the game, drew one walk, had 14 strikeouts, three sac bunts, two stolen bases, one error, and left eight on base.
Game Two- lost 9-5
Luke Holman made the move from midweek starter to weekend starter this week, moving into the Saturday slot. Holman had been sterling in his four starts leading up to this series. Holman got through the first allowing a walk but nothing else. The base runner was erased on an attempted steal on a perfect throw from Dominic Tamez. The Cats got on the board in the second after walk, fielders choice, error, and wild pitch. Kentucky added to their lead in the third with two singles and a successful squeeze bunt, making the score 2-0.
In the top of the 4th Holman was chased after loading the bases with no outs. Hunter Gilliam reached on an error and the next batters reached on a walk and hit by pitch. Hunter Furtado relieved for the Tide and immediately allowed a two run single before striking out two and getting a ground ball to end the inning.
Trailing 4-0 entering the bottom of the 4th, the Tide showed some fight, sending nine men to the plate and scoring three times. Tamez started things with a single, and advanced on a single by Colby Shelton. Andrew Pinckney singled to plate Tamez and Shelton raced home on a fielders choice ground ball by Max Williams. William Hamiter had a pinch hit single and Will Hodo walked to load the bases with two outs. Ed Johnson was hit by a pitch to drive in a run and leave the bases jammed. A strikeout ended the inning with Bama trailing 4-3.
Furtado hit the first two batters in the top of the 5th and then allowed an RBI single leading to his departure in favor of Zane Probst. Once again the Cats pulled off a successful squeeze bunt to score one run and a wild pitch and a single to score two more. Probst pitched two scoreless innings before being replaced by Brock Blatter to begin the 7th. The pesky Cats used a walk, double, ground out, and balk to score twice, chasing Blatter. Connor Ball relieved and got a fly out to end the inning with Bama now down 9-3.
Tamez and Shelton walked to start the bottom of the 7th, and moved up on a one out single by Williams. Hamiter brought in one run on a ground out and Jim Jarvis singled in another. Ball pitched scoreless innings in the 8th and the 9th, but the Tide could do no more with Kentucky relievers Jackson Move and Ryan Hagenow.
Bama hit 12-39 in the game with four walks, seven strikeouts, one hit batter, one error, and 12 men left on base. Shelton hit 3-4 with a walk, a double and two runs scored. Pinckney was 2-4 with a run driven in, Hamtier was 2-3 with an RBI, and Jarvis was 2-5 with one run driven in. Holman fell to 4-1 with the loss. UK hit 10-33 with five walks, eight strikeouts, two sac bunts, four stolen bases, and eight left on base.
Game Three- Won 4-3
With their backs against the wall and in a must win situation, the Tide pulled out a thrilling 4-3 win in game three. Grayson Hitt was moved to the Sunday role from Friday and responded with his best performance of the year. Once again the Wildcats small balled their way to an early lead. Lead off man Jackson Gray single, advanced to second on a passed ball and continued to third on (yet) another sacrifice bunt. A Devin Burkes single plated Gray before Hitt got the next two batters out.
The Tide answered with their version of small ball in the bottom of the first. Colby Shelton was hit by a pitch leading off and was followed by a single by Will Hodo. The Tide’s leading hitter, Drew Williamson, then sacrificed bunted the two runners up a base. Jim Jarvis then lofted a fly ball in foul ground behind third base which shortstop Grant Smith chased down with his back to the plate. Shelton was able to tag and scored on the rare sacrifice fly to the shortstop.
The Cats used a one out walk and a single to put runners on 1st and 3rd in the second. Smith layed down another perfect squeeze bunt to plate the second run for UK. Hitt and Kentucky’s Zach Lee then traded zeros until the bottom of the 6th when Bama tied the game up. Jarvis single with one out and Hamiter followed with a walk. A wild pitch moved both up and Lee was replaced by Mason Moore. After a pop out for out two. Andrew Pinckney single to right field to score Jarvis, but Hamiter was thrown out at the plate on a perfect throw.
Kade Woods replaced Hitt to being the 7th inning for the Tide. After a strikeout for out one, Smith got a hold of a 96 mph fast ball and drove it over the centerfield fence for his first home run of the season. Pinckney just missed snaring the drive with a leaping try at the fence. Woods retired the next two batters and the first three batters in the 8th before the Tide rallied in the bottom half.
Jarvis walked with one out and reached third on a double by Hamiter. That is where the fun began. Ed Johnson hit a ground ball to first base and when Hunter Gilliam slipped, Jarvis took off for home and somehow slid under the tag attempt to scored the tying run. The Cats called for a review and the call stood. Jarvis just got his toe under the catcher and was tagged on the chest after touching the plate. Pinckney then singled to left to drive in a run. However after Hamiter scored Pinckney over slid second base and continued toward third, waving Johnson toward home. The shortstop pivoted to throw home as Johnson slide. The catcher dropped the ball, but the problem was Johnson didn't touch the plate. As the ball bounced away Johnson had an opportunity to reach over and slap the plate but was not able to do so before the ball was retrieved and he was tagged. When the ball got by the catcher it hit the umpire and only squirted a foot or so away. A ground out ended the inning with the Tide not getting the wanted insurance run.
Woods took care of things in the 9th on three fly ball out to Tommy Seidl in right field, the last of which was a running, leaping catch at the wall to end the game with Bama on top 4-3.
Alabama hit 5-26 in the game with five walks, two hit batters, one stolen base, one sacrifice fly, one sacrifice bunt, seven strikeouts, and seven left on base. Pinckney was 2-3 with a walk and two runs driven in. Jarvis was 1-2 with a walk, an RBI, and two runs scored. The Cats hit 6-31 with two walks, nine strikeouts, five left on base. and one stolen base. Woods was the winning pitcher and his now 2-0, throwing three innings while allowing one hit, one run, no walks, and four strikeouts. Hitt finished his stint with six innings pitched, five hits, two runs-one earned, two walks, and five strikeouts over 89 pitches.
Bama hit 23-105 for a .219 average for the weekend with 14 walks, three hit batters, 26 strikeouts, 25 men left on bases, one stolen base, one sac bunt, one sacrifice fly, and just two extra base hits- both doubles. Kentucky hit .233 on 25 hits on 107 at bats. The Cats struck out 33 times, had eight walks, four hit batters, seven stolen bases, six sac bunts. three doubles, one home run, and 21 men left on base.
Who Did What ?
*Andrew Pinckney 5-11, four RBI, two walks
*Jim Jarvis 4-12, three runs, two RBI, BB, Sac Fly
*William Hamtier 3-5, BB, HBP, Double, Run, RBI
*Ben Hess 6.1 IP 5 H 1 BB 10 K’s - 2 earned runs
*Grayson Hitt 6 IP 5 H 2 BB 5 K’s one earned run
*Kade Woods W (2-0) 3 IP 1 H 0 BB 4 K’s one earned run
*Connor Ball 2.1 IP 1 H 0 BB 1 K no runs
It was great to salvage a game in the series for the second week in a row, but the Tide has to feel like they had plenty of chances to win game one as well. No one would have bet good money on the Wildcats having the only home run of the series. Although Kentucky is one of the leading hitting teams in the SEC, they entered the weekend with only 15 home runs as a squad. Meanwhile the Tide had slugged 44 home runs prior to this weekend.
Kentucky is a pesky, scratch and claw, team that knows who they are and do it well. Reach base anyway possible, steal bases, bunt, fight off multiple two strike pitches, get the ball in play, and be extremely aggressive on the base paths, causing opponents to make mistakes. Bama got outstanding starts from Hess and Hitt and good bullpen work from several arms. A play here or there and the Tide would have had a series win. Alas the clutch hit or mistake by Kentucky was not forthcoming.
What’s next ?
The Tide travels to Huntsville to play Middle Tennessee State on Tuesday night at 6 p.m. The game will be played at the home of the Thrash Panda’s- Toyota Field. Following that the team will go to Fayetteville, AR to play another top five team, the Arkansas Razorbacks. The games are scheduled for Friday at 6;30 p.m., 2 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. on Sunday. Friday and Saturday’s game will be available on the SEC Network Plus, while Sunday’s game will be on the SEC Network. A huge challenge for the Tide in the meat grinder that is the SEC.