The Crimson Tide baseball team won their first SEC series of the year, taking two out of three games from South Carolina this weekend. The series was scheduled for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, but due to rain the teams played a day-night double header on Friday and a single game on Saturday. The Tide used outstanding pitching to win both games on Friday, and lost a heartbreaker on Saturday in 12 innings by a 5-4 score. Sam Finnerty pitched an absolute gem in the first game as the Tide won 9-0, and Brock Love stared on the mound in game two, a 4-1 win.
Game One: Won 9-0
The story of the game was senior right hander Sam Finnerty. “Fin” pitched the first complete game of the year for the Tide, a sparkling 79 pitch, four-hit shutout. Finnerty struck out five, and walked none, and was in control from beginning to end.
The Tide jumped out early with three runs in the first inning, highlighted by an RBI single by Morgan McCullough and a two run double from Brett Auerbach. Bama put the game away in the second on another RBI single by McCullough and a long grand slam home run off the bat of Tyler Gentry. The round tripper was Gentry’s team leading sixth of the year. Bama only scored once more, a single run in the third, on a blast off the top of the scoreboard by freshman T.J. Reeves, his fourth of the year.
Finnerty stayed on cruise control, never throwing more than 14 pitches in any one inning, the fifth. The caveat to that is he struck out all three batters that frame. Only once did the Gamecocks have three balls on a batter. Finnerty gave up a one out single in the ninth, but got a 6-4-3 double play to end the game. With the win Finnerty improved to 5-3 on the season. Fifty-nine of Finnerty’s 79 pitches were for strikes. Daniel Lloyd allowed all nine runs for SC in three innings and suffered the loss, dropping to 2-3 on the year.
The Tide collected 11 hits, walked five times, reached three times via hit batter, and stranded 10 runners on base. The ‘Cocks had four hits, no walks, and left three runners on base. Neither team committed an error in the game. McCullough, Gentry, Auerbach, and Reeves had two hits apiece for Bama.
Game Two: Won 4-1
After a break of two hours the teams came out back for game two on Friday night. Redshirt junior Brock Love was on the mound for the Tide. Love and Finnerty, along with Houston Astro farm hand Chandler Taylor, all came to Tuscaloosa as the cornerstone of Mitch Gaspard’s last recruiting class in 2016. They were the top three ranked players in the state of Alabama coming out of high school. Love has had an injury plagued career, and just now seems to be rounding into form after Tommy John surgery two years ago.
Through the first six innings the Gamecocks only threatened once, in the first after a two out error and a walk. Love shut the door after that for the next five innings. The Tide used five singles and a force out to score three times in the bottom of the fourth. McCullough, Gentry, Drew Williamson, Auerbach, and Reeves all had the safeties in the inning. Williamson and Auerbach’s hits drove runs in, and a ground out by John Trousdale brought in the other run.
The first batter Love faced in the seventh, Jacob Olson, hit his 12th home run of the season to finally put the Gamecocks on the board. When the next batter lined a single to right, coach Brad Bohannon called on closer Jeremy Randolph to try for the rare three inning save. Randolph induced a fly out and a double play to end the seventh with no further damage. The Tide added an insurance run in the bottom half when a Williamson single drove in McCullough, who had singled for the third time in the game.
Randolph got himself into trouble in the eighth with a hit batter and two walks, but bounced back with a couple of strikeouts to hold the lead at 4-1. Randolph got two strikeouts and a ground out to short to end the game and secure his fifth save of the season.
Love improved to 4-1 with the victory. The Tide collected 11 hits, walked only once, had one hit batter, struck out only once, and stranded nine runners. USC had only three hits, reach on four walks and one hit batters, while striking out 12 times and stranding seven runners. McCullough and Williamson both had three hit games and Gentry had another two hit night.
Game Three: Lost 5-4, 12 innings
Having used only three pitchers in the first two games, the Tide came into game three with a pretty full chamber of bullets. Freshman Tyler Ras got the starting nod, but was going to be on a short leash with so many arms available. The Gamecocks led off the game with a single, and after one out added another. The second hit got under Keith Holcombe’s glove in left field and rolled to the fence, chasing the base runner home, and the batter to third base. Another single scored the second run, and the Tide entered the bottom of the first behind for the first time all weekend by a score of 2-0.
Ras gave up a double and a single to lead off the second, and was replaced with no outs by Chase Lee. The Gamecocks used a walk and two more singles to double their lead to 4-0. After those two runs the Tide bullpen went nine straight innings without allowing another run.
The Tide cut the lead to 4-2 in the bottom of the third when Keith Holcombe doubled in Joe Breaux and Kolby Robinson. Breaux reached on a double of is own, and Robinson was hit by a pitch. Casey Cobb followed Lee on the mound and pitched 3.2 innings of scoreless baseball, allowing two hits and striking out two.
Bama tied the game in the fifth when Reeves led off with a single, followed by a Breaux walk. Robinson had a perfect sacrifice bunt to advance the runners. McCullough kept his hot weekend going, lining a two run single, making the score 4-4.
T.J. Shook (2 innings) and Brett Kerry, (5.2 innings) allowed only three Bama hits over the last 7.2 innings of the game. In the bottom of the ninth, the Tide had a chance to win the game. Reeves was hit by a pitch with two outs, and advanced on a Breaux single. Robinson grounded out to end the threat.
The Tide had a great chance to end the game in the bottom of the 10th, when they again had a two out rally. Gentry reached on a two base error, and Williamson was intentionally walked. Auerbach then lined a hot shot in the hole at shortstop that the Gamecocks’ George Callil dove and snared to end the inning. The winning run would have scored without Callil’s heroics.
Davis Vainer, Brock Guffey, Deacon Medders, Jeremy Randolph, and Kyle Cameron finished the game on the mound for the Tide. South Carolina finally scored their first run since the second inning in the top of the 12th, without the benefit of a hit. Medders recorded the first out of the inning, then was replaced by Randolph with a 1-1 count on the next batter, who ended up walking. The next batter struck out, and the Tide appeared to have a strike them out, throw them out, double play. However on a bang-bang play, and after a review, the runner was called safe. By this time a steady rain was coming down. A wild pitch advanced the runner, and another allowed him to score what turned out to be the winning run.
The Tide went down without any trouble in the 12th, and the Gamecocks won the game 5-4. Bama finished with seven hits, walked three times, had two hits batters, eight strikeouts, and left eight runners on base. USC had nine hits, walked five times. struck out 13 times. and stranded 11 runners. Bama committed two errors, and the Gamecocks one. Medders was the loser, dropping to 2-2 on the year. In 11 innings the Tide relievers allowed only four hits, walked five, and struck out 11. McCullough and Breaux had two hits each for Bama.
Any series win in the SEC is welcome and with the Tide’s schedule, this one was circled as one that they could/should get. The team has to feel that they let one get way, with the chance to sweep, but overall a good weekend. The starting pitching in the first two games was outstanding. The Gamecocks came into the series last in the SEC in batting average at .251, but first in home runs with 51. For the Tide to hold them to only one home run and 16 total hits was remarkable. Finnerty and Love were extraordinary , and if Finnerty isn't the SEC pitcher of the week the award should be discontinued. McCullough and Gentry bounced back from tough weekends in Gainesville last week to lead the team at the plate. Reeves and Williamson are blossoming into stars right before our eyes. Robinson and Holcombe, who have been the teams leading hitters all year, scuffled some this weekend. If they can get hot again along with the other guys, the offense will be much improved. The bullpen has been much maligned the last few weeks, but were outstanding in this series.
Who Did What ?Morgan McCullough 7-15, four RBI, four runs, two stolen bases Tyler Gentry 5-12, Grand Slam home run, four RBI, three runs, stolen base, HBP T.J. Reeves 4-10, double, home run. three runs, two BB, HBP, RBI Drew Williamson 4-11, two RBI, two BB, Run, stolen base Sam Finnerty, W- 5-3, 9 IP, 4 Hits, 0 Walks, 5 Strikeouts, 0 runs, CG-79 pitches Brock Love, W 4-1, 6+IP 3 Hits, 2 Walks, 8 Strikeouts, 1 run Jeremy Randolph Save (5), 3.1 IP, 0 H, 4 BB, 5 Strikeouts Tide Pitching Staff, Held USC to 16-104 (.153 average), 6 runs, 30 strikeouts, 9 walks
What’s Next ?
Four road games next week, a Tuesday trip to Homewood to play Samford, and a weekend visit to second ranked Mississippi State in Starkville. The Samford game is at 6 p.m. and will not be available on any form of television. The MSU games are at 6:30 on Friday, 3 p.m on Saturday, and 3 p.m on Sunday. The first two will be available on SEC Network Plus, and the Sunday game will be on the SEC Network.
Roll Tide, Bama Baseball Fever, Catch it
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