Alabama Salvages Split With Texas A&M

Striving to avoid a three-game series sweep by No. 5 Texas A&M Saturday, the Alabama baseball team did more than that by splitting a doubleheader at the Hoover Met, its 2015 home away from home. The Tide (13-9, 3-3 SEC) not only salvaged the nightcap with a 6-2 win over the Aggies, but also ended A&M’s 24-game season-opening winning streak. Coming in, the Aggies were America’s only unbeaten team.

The visitors took the series two games to one, but Alabama Coach Mitch Gaspard liked what he saw in game three, despite four Tide fielding errors.

“It’s important to get a win,” Gaspard said. “Their streak is about them.

“(Starter) Geoff (Bramblett) was really good, and we needed it. It was really a struggle today, in a lot of areas, and I was really pleased with the way he responded to some bad play behind him. It’s uncharacteristic of us, making four errors. He overcame those things, and kept us right there. I thought his command was really good. He was sharp, and Ray (Castillo) came in at the back end of the game and did the same thing.

“It was a sloppy day, and obviously game one was disappointing there in the eighth (when A&M rallied from a 5-3 deficit with four runs).”

Added starter, winner and Hoover native Bramblett (4-1): “I just wanted to go out and make quality pitches as much as I could, and I knew it would turn out for us. Luckily, our bats got going there at the end, and we pulled it out.

“We’ve got to get better (as a pitching staff). We’ve got a lot of stuff we’ve got to clean up. We’re going to continue to work hard, and get better at those things. Each guy’s got something (to improve on), me included, so we’ll just keep getting better, and we’ll be all right. I feel good (about the team). As long as we keep rallying together, and we keep getting closer together and playing harder, I feel like we’re going in the right direction.”

Bramblett pitched seven innings, allowed seven hits, two runs (one earned), walked three and struck out three. He threw 117 pitches.

The Aggies (24-1, 5-1 SEC) won game one of the Saturday twin bill, 10-5.

In game two, with one down in the bottom of the first, Georgie Salem doubled to deep center. Fellow junior Mikey White dumped a single into right, and Casey Hughston scored Salem when he beat out a potential double play grounder to give the Tide a 1-0 lead. Kyle Overstreet drew a walk to bring Chance Vincent up with two on and two out, and the first baseman drove home two more with a triple to the right field corner. Catcher Will Haynie laced a double down the left field line to plate Vincent, and when the dust had settled, Bama led 4-0. Aggies starter Turner Larkins lasted but two thirds of an inning.

In the top of inning two, A&M loaded the bases with no outs on a hit, error and walk. Hoover native Bramblett then gave up an RBI hit to Blake Kopetsky, but induced a grounder to himself by G.R. Hinsley that became a home to first double play. A fly ball to right fielder Hughston by Michael Barash ended the threat, and Bama led 4-1.

The Aggies added a single run in the third, and could have had more but for a sliding catch by junior left fielder Riley Colburn, whose dad Rocky was a safety for Paul Bryant and Ray Perkins back in the day.

The 4-2 Tide lead stayed intact until the Bama eighth, when Overstreet doubled and Vincent reached on an infield hit. Vincent took second on an errant throw to give Alabama two men in scoring position with no outs. Haynie walked to load the bases, and DH Daniel Cucjen went down swinging for the first out. Colburn did the same, leaving the scoring chances in the hands of Avant. The freshman dropped a two out, two-run double just fair down the right field line against reliever Mark Ecker, plating a pair and giving the Tide some breathing room. Salem struck out to end the frame.

Gaspard said, “That was a big hit by Avant… to stretch it to four (runs). You want to win series at home. Obviously, that’s the goal.With us, it helps that we won the series at (Mississippi) State last weekend, and we got that one (today), so you’re 3-3 (in the SEC). In this league, you’ve got to survive and get through. When you can get wins, you’ve got to get them, and that was a good one in game three. You keep churning, and you keep learning.

“Right now, we’ve got to get better. We’re not where we want to be for sure, but it’s a long season. You just keep going and keep grinding. Hopefully, this team will hit its stride here pretty soon.”

The team played the A&M series without DH/relief pitcher J.C. Wilhite (mono) and pitcher Jake Hubbard (forearm). Both are set to return in the next week.

Castillo went the final two frames for his third save, retiring six of the seven men he faced.

Next up for the Tide is a Tuesday night visit to Mobile to take on South Alabama. From there, Bama journeys to Gainesville for a Thursday-Saturday three game set against the top-ranked Florida Gators.

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