Although the pitcher is the most important man on the field, he’s not the only man on the field. Usually, the guys around the pitcher do their job, but sometimes they don’t. Such was the case early in Alabama’s game against North Dakota.
But Sophomore right-hander Jake Walters didn’t let a bad situation get him down. He struck out a career-high 13 batters to help lead Alabama baseball past North Dakota, 5-2, on Saturday afternoon at Sewell-Thomas Stadium. The Crimson Tide secured its second series win of the season with the victory and improved to 5-1.
Walters (1-1) ran into trouble in the third, as an Alabama error led to North Dakota picking up two runs and a 2-0 lead.
Talk about refocus. Eight of Walters’ 13 strikeouts came from the fourth inning on, including getting his final five outs by strikeout. He pitched seven innings, allowing only the two unearned runs and six hits, and issued only one walk.
“I thought (Jake Walters) was really sharp all game long,” said Alabama Coach Mitch Gaspard. “In the third inning, I thought he really showed some maturity. He had a lot of stuff going on around him and it was really no doing of his, but he stayed with it and kept making pitches. He overcame it and kept the game at two, and then really from there, he just took off and was really sharp. I thought he really was the difference in the game today.”
North Dakota collected its two runs in the top of the third to take the early 2-0 lead. A leadoff double was followed by a sacrifice bunt attempt that resulted in a throwing error by the UA catcher with the ball going into left to score the game’s first run. A pair of passed balls followed, bringing in the second run of the inning before a pair of strikeouts closed out the frame.
Alabama would begin chipping away at the UND lead, answering with single runs in the fourth and fifth innings to set the score even at 2-2. Keith Holcombe led off the fourth with a single and then an error by the North Dakota first baseman on a failed pickoff attempt moved the leadoff man to second. Chandler Taylor followed with a single to right to bring Holcombe across and make it a 2-1 contest after four full.
Cobie Vance extended his hitting streak to six games with a leadoff single in the fifth. A walk pushed Vance to second and a sacrifice bunt moved two runners into scoring position. Tanner DeVinny stepped in and sacrificed himself with a flyout to right that scored Vance and made it even again through five.
The Crimson Tide took its first lead of the day when Vance came around to score in the sixth. The freshman reached on a fielder’s choice that cut down the runner in front of him but a miscue on the exchange by the Fighting Hawk second baseman sent the ball into no man’s land in right field. Staying alert, Vance headed to second and was safe, but realized there was no one covering third and took that base on the error as well. Georgie Salem laid down a perfect bunt that put him on first and scored Vance to put Alabama in front, 3-2, after six.
In the seventh, Alabama tallied one more run to extend its lead to 4-2. A two-out walk from Chandler Avant followed by a Taylor single put runners of the corners. Ahead in the count 0-2, the North Dakota pitcher tossed a wild pitch into the dirt and past the catcher to score Avant and give Alabama a two-run lead. Salem would add one more insurance run in the eighth, sending a 2-0 fastball into the stands in right for a solo homer to extend the lead to 5-2, the eventual final.
“The game can change in several pitches, you never know when you’re safe, so it’s always good to add runs at the end of the game,” said Salem of his home run. “When you add to your lead, that kind of puts a team away. They can get a little bit of momentum, but when you add one or two runs at the end, it kind of takes all their energy away. And that’s what has been a big key this season, just draining the energy out of the other team.”
The offense was highlighted by Salem, who finished 2-for-3 with his first home run of the season, two RBI, one run scored and a walk. Also notching two hits was Taylor, who finished 2-for-4 with an RBI.
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Left-handers Jon Keller and Thomas Burrows followed Walters out of the pen, with the tandem working two innings and using 15 pitches to record six consecutive outs. Keller earned his first hold of the year, while Burrows notched his third save in as many opportunities and added two more strikeouts to his total. The save was Burrows’ 21st of his career, tying him with Brian Reed (2002-03) for the most career saves in Alabama history.
The teams meet against Sunday at 1 p.m. CST in Sewell-Thomas Stadium.