Going into Friday’s quarterfinal elimination round, the Crimson Tide baseball team felt like they had done enough to earn a top 16 seed and be a host team in the NCAA Tournament.
Fortunately, the work was done prior to Friday night, because the Tide could never get in a rhythm or any momentum going in their quarterfinal match up with Vanderbilt. The Commodores put up five runs in the top of the 1st and coasted to a 9-2 win.
With a 40-18 overall record, 18 wins against SEC teams, and an a No. 9 RPI, the Tide appears to be a lock in to host a regional next weekend. The Tide finished the SEC Tournament 2-2. Friday’s game was played in front of 15,012 fans, the second largest in tournament history, and the largest since 1999.
Jacob McNairy, who has been outstanding all year, drew the start for the Tide on the mound opposite the Dores Devin Futrell. But McNairy fell victim to some bad luck and a shrinking strike zone by home plate umpire Derek Mollica.
Enrique Bradfield walked to lead off the game and advanced on a single by Davis Diaz. Diaz hit a line drive at third base that glanced off Colby Shelton’s glove for a safety. If Shelton could have snared the hot drive, Bradfield would have easily been doubled off first base. RJ Schreck doubled in Bradfield and a ground out scored Diaz. Chris Maldonado singled in another run and with two outs RJ Austin drilled his 7th home run of the season over the fence in left field.
The Tide had a chance to cut into the lead in the bottom of the 1st but left the bases loaded.
Jim Jarvis reached base on a scary play when he was hit in the helmet on a 1-2 pitch from Futrell. After a few moments Jarvis made his way to first base and was checked out by the Alabama medical staff. Jarvis was taken into the dugout to be checked out and Will Portera took his spot at first base. Drew Williamson hit a one out single and with two outs Dominic Tamez walked to load the bases. Will Hodo hit a liner to center field that Bradfield tracked down to leave the bases loaded.
To everyone’s surprise, Jarvis would return at the top of the next inning thanks to a rule that most didn’t know of (and I definitely didn't).
In college baseball, if a player suffers a head injury, he can go through concussion protocol and come back in if deemed fit. Jarvis did, and returned.
McNairy settled in and pitched scoreless innings in the 2nd, 3rd. and 4th, stranding the bases jammed in the 3rd. In the bottom half of the 3rd the Tide got on the board when Andrew Pinckney doubled with one out and scored in front of Shelby’s 22nd home run of the season. The Commodores chased McNairy from the game in the top of the 5th. Maldonado led off with a walk and scored on a out out double by Austin. Matthew Polk poked a two run single to make the lead 8-2. When Alan Espinal singled McNairy was replaced by Zane Probst. Probst retired two men in a row to end the inning.
Bama again loaded the bases in the bottom of the 4th, and again couldn't score a run. Ed Johnson walked with one out, Bryce Eblin singled with two outs, and Jarvis was hit by a pitch. A pop out ended the threat and the Tide squandered their last best chance to score.
Propst continued on the mound in the 6th, but walked the first three batters to load the bases. Braylon Myers was called in from the bullpen and did a masterful job of not allowing any run. A line out to Bryce Eblin at second base and a slick double play turned by Eblin and Jarvis eliminated the threat. After the 4th inning Bama only had three more base runners in the game, on two walks and one single.
Myers was a bright spot with perfect innings in the 7th and 8th before being touched for a home run by Maldonado leading off the top of the 9th. With one out Myers walked Austin and was replaced by Hunter Hoopes. Hoopes got Calvin Hewitt to fly out to left field and a throw back to first base doubled off Austin, who had failed to tag up. The Tide went out quickly and quietly in the bottom of the 9th and the Dores claimed the 9-2 win.
After hot hitting in their first three games of the tournament, the Tide hit only 5-32 with four walks, two hit batters, one double, one home run, six strikeouts, and nine men left on base. Pinckney was 2-5 with a double and run scored and Shelton drove in two with his 22nd home run during his 1-4 game. Williamson and Eblin had one hit and one walk each. McNairy fell to 6-2 with the loss where his numbers were a lot worse than his performance.
Vanderbilt, who only scored seven runs in three games against the Tide in Tuscaloosa, had nine hits and eight runs McNairy’s 4.1 innings of work, The super senior right hander had only walked 14 batters in 62 innings -one every 4.5 innings prior to this game, and some how walked four in 4.1 inning trying to adjust to the matchbook sized strike zone. Overall the Tide hit 36-142 for a .253 average 11 walks, 34 strikeouts, five hit batters, and 32 left on base. Bama pitchers held their four opponents to 32-134 for a .238 average, walked 23 batters, struck out 35 men, and stranded 35 runners on base.
Vanderbilt hit 10-35 with eight walks, a hit batter, two home runs, a double, eight strikeouts, and left eight on base. Austin was a triple short of the cycle and finished 3-4 with two driven in. Maldonado was 2-2 with three walks, three runs, two RBI, and a home run. Futrell was the winner and improved to 7-3 on the season. Thomas Schultz pitched the last four innings and earned his first save of the year.
The team that talented, desperate Vanderbilt faced on Friday night was not the Alabama team that beat the Commodores a month ago.
Alabama was playing a makeshift lineup, with several banged up players held out of the game. Leading hitter Tommy Seidl had to leave Thursday’s night game, and the team elected to give him another day to rest. Centerfielder Caden Rose has fought a lower body injury all season and with this being the teams fourth game in four nights was given the night off. Regular second baseman Ed Johnson played left field, Eblin was at second after playing mostly third base, William Hamiter played right field and Pinckney slid over to center field. Tamez moved from DH to catcher and Mac Guscette sat out after catching three games in three days, and Will Hodo took the DH spot.
Not that Vanderbilt didn’t play well, because they did. The Dores capitalized on enough early opportunities to leave the Tide in an insurmountable hole. And they were able to get themselves out of jams every time ‘Bama threatened. But they should have been able to, given Alabama’s health situation.
From all indications, Alabama expects to hear their name called when the NCAA announces the 16 host schools for next week’s tournament. If Bama grabs a national seed it will be the first time since 2016 that the University has hosted a regional.
*Tommy Seidl 6-12, HBP, four runs, five RBI, two doubles, home run
*Andrew Pinckney 6-15, 3 runs, HBP, two walks, sac fly, home run, stolen base, outfield assist
*Colby Shelton 5-16, two home runs, four RBI, walk, two runs
*Drew Williamson 5-16, two RBI, two doubles, walk, sac fly
*Hunter Furtado W (1-1)5 IP, two hits, two walks, two strikeouts, 77 pitches
*Luke Holman 5.2 IP, four hits, two runs, three walks, five strikeouts, 101 pitches
*Aidan Moza 4.1 IP, two hits, 2 runs, one earned, two walks, four strikeouts, 59 pitches
*Garrett McMillian W (4-2) 6 IP, five hits, three runs, three walks, eight strikeouts, 96 pitches
*Hunter Hoopes S (1) two appearances, 1.1 IP, 0 hits, 0 walks, two strikeouts, 12 pitches
Bama Baseball Fever, Catch it