There were big time defensive plays. There was a long ball by a true freshman who could end up being called “The Natural.” But what stood out in Alabama’s 3-1 opening night win over Maryland in the Tide’s pristine new stadium: pitching, pitching, and more pitching. But that new stadium…
“There’s just not a whole lot of words to describe it,” said Alabama Coach Mitch Gaspard. “I think it was everything we thought of. It was about raising the energy level of Alabama baseball. That’s what it’s all about, and the stadium’s a big part of that.”
And that pitching? “I thought Geoffrey (Bramblett) really gutted it out tonight,” Gaspard said. “The reason we were able to use the pen the way we did, was him getting through those last two innings the way he did.”
After a brief pregame grand reopening ceremony, things started well for Alabama as junior right-hander Bramblett retired the Terrapins in order.
What was working for the Tide starter? “The defense,” said Bramblett. “There are days you’re not going to be as sharp, but our defense was huge, and going out and making plays to get out of those tough spots.
“This stadium is awesome, and this atmosphere is unreal.”
Thing is, Maryland started big time prospect Mike Shawaryn, who many feel will be a first round pick in the MLB draft. That didn’t seem to phase Bama freshman right fielder Chandler Taylor, who made history with two gone in the bottom of the first by belting an 0-1 offering into the Right Field Ragers section for 1-0 Bama lead. His first homer was also the first round-tripper in the new stadium, and the first hit.
Said Taylor: “I still can’t explain how it felt. It was breath-taking, for sure. I got a pitch to hit, put the barrel on it, and it worked out in my favor.
“Coach tells us if you prepare to succeed, you’re going to be put in opportunities to succeed. I believe whole-heartedly in that.”
Gaspard said of his freshman slugger, “He’s earned the right to hit in the three hole. He’s been hitting doubles and homers since he got here. He’s a very advanced young hitter, and he lives for the moment.”
That would be proven true again later in the game.
That Tide lead stood until the second inning, when Maryland’s Nick Cieri walked to lead off, and Andrew Bechtold singled softly to left. Two outs late, Kevin Biondic walked to load the bases, and Bramblett walked Zach Jancarski to force in a run and tie the game.
Bama threatened to break the deadlock in the fourth, when Shawaryn walked Taylor and hit Cody Henry to give the Tide two on with one out. After Cobie Vance moved both runners up with a groundout to first, DH Ryan Blanchard fell into a quick 0-2 hole before going down swinging.
Senior Georgie Salem helped preserve the tie when he made an ESNP Top 10-type diving stab in the top of the fifth in left center to rob Kevin Smith of extra bases.
Bramblett was on a pitch count, and he left with one gone in the sixth after allowing one run, three hits, walking four and striking out six on 90 pitches. Jon Keller (1-0), a senior lefty, came on and went 1 2/3 innings. He gave up no runs, two hits, walked one, and struck out one.
Chandler Avant led off the Tide sixth with a double to the left field corner. Fellow Chandler –Chadler Taylor -- singled up the middle, scoring Avant for a 2-1 Tide lead, sending Shawaryn to the showers.
“I was just looking for a pitch on the inner half,” Taylor said of his second run batted in. “I put a good swing on it, and an RBI later, we feel like we’re taking this one home.”
That they did.
Jancarski got a bit greedy leading off the seventh, and paid the price. He reached first on an errant throw from shortstop Avant to Henry at first, and decided to try and take second when the ball got away. Catcher Will Haynie, backing up the play, pegged the speedster at second by several feet.
“That play there was really big,” Gaspard said. “Instead of being lazy, (Haynie) hustled down to first.”
Salem walked to lead off the seventh, and Haynie bunted him to second. Chance Vincent walked, and former Hoover Buc/Auburn Tiger Connor Short hit for Wood. Short lifted a fly ball to right that moved Salem to third. With two out, Avant singled sharply to right to plate Salem for a 3-1 lead. Taylor was hit by a pitch to load the sacks , and Maryland brought in 6-foot-8 righty Ryan Selmer to face Henry. The sophomore first baseman went down swinging, but the Tide needed six outs to win its opener.
Junior transfer Matt Foster took the hill for the eighth. He retired the Terps in order, striking out two.
After Vance singled leading off the eighth for his first college hit, linebacker/outfielder Keith Holcombe was called on to bunt the runner over, which he did successfully. Salem struck out looking, and Haynie flew out to end the frame.
Junior closer Thomas Burrows came on to pitch the ninth in a save situation. Pinch hitter Jamal Wade just missed a double down the left field line before striking out swinging. Biondic grounded to short, Avant’s throw was wide, but Henry tagged the runner at first. When Jancarski grounded to second, Vance threw him out and Bama had the win to properly christen its new home.
The paid attendance was 5,867. The teams meet again at 3:30 Saturday, around the anticipated time of the conclusion of the Mississippi State-Alabama basketball game at neighboring Coleman Coliseum.