The good news is that Alabama’s baseball team qualified for the Southeastern Conference Tournament, which begins Tuesday at the Hoover Metropolitan Stadium in suburban Birmingham. The bad news is that the Crimson Tide will go into the tournament with no momentum after Bama lost its third consecutive game to South Carolina at Sewell-Thomas Stadium Saturday.
Alabama closed out regular season play with its third consecutive two-run loss to South Carolina as the Crimson Tide dropped a 9-7 decision to the Gamecocks Saturday.
“Today was much like the series,” Alabama Coach Mitch Gaspard said following Saturday’s game. “Every time we kind of made a little run at them, they held us from taking the lead in most spots. We got a short-lived lead today, but they just continued to respond. South Carolina is a really a hot team. There’s some areas here that we’ve got to take from the weekend and work on. You start fresh again on Tuesday in the SEC Tournament. We’ve got to put our game together, clean some areas up and execute overall just a little bit better.”
Bama came into the South Carolina series three games over .500 in SEC games, and now enters the tournament at 15-15 in league games, 31-24 overall. Reaching the conference tournament is not a huge achievement as 12 of the 14 conference teams (all but Arkansas and Auburn) qualified.
While some projections have the Tide making the NCAA Tournament of 64 teams, the weekend performance against the Gamecocks may have put that selection in jeopardy, dependent on SEC Tournament success. Bama will participate in one of Tuesday’s single-elimination matchups, taking on Kentucky in the 4:30 p.m. CDT matchup at the Hoover Met. The winner of that game will advance to the double-elimination portion of the tournament and takes on SEC regular season champion Mississippi State at 4:30 Wednesday.
For much of this season, Alabama’s offense has been the weakness of the Tide. Bama still had several key moments where a base hit might have made a difference against the Gamecocks, but the front of the lineup was outstanding in Saturday’s final game. The Tide’s 1-through-4 hitters batted a combined .530 (9-17) with a double, one home run, six runs batted in, six runs scored, and a stolen base.
Chandler Taylor finished 2-for-5 with a home run, one run scored, a stolen base and a team-high tying three RBI. Also contributing three RBI was Georgie Salem, who went 3-for-5 with a double and added one run. Keith Holcombe finished with a career-high and team-high three runs scored, while Cobie Vance led the Tide with two walks and added a 1-for-3 day that included a run scored.
The two teams went back and forth, responding to one another with runs at nearly every opportunity. Alabama took a 4-3 lead after three innings, but the Gamecocks would answer with one in the fourth, two in the fifth and single runs in each of the final three innings. The Crimson Tide scored one in the fifth and then one each in the seventh and eighth.
South Carolina scored three in the first to take an early in game three of the series. The Gamecocks led off with a single before rallying with two outs, using a pair of singles and then a double to make it a 3-0 contest after a half inning of play.
In the bottom of the third, the Crimson Tide rallied with two outs, scoring four runs on three hits. Keith Holcombe began the inning, beating out a grounder to the first base side, and was followed by Cobie Vance, who drew a walk on 3-2 to give the Tide two baserunners. Georgie Salem followed with a double over the center fielder’s head to score a pair, before Chandler Taylor rounded out the sequence with a home run to left-center, giving the Tide a 4-3 lead heading to the fourth. The home run was Taylor’s team-high tying ninth of the season.
South Carolina regained its lead with a pair of runs in the top of the fifth. Two singles and a walk loaded the bases, before a two-out single to left scored two.
Alabama answered with one in the bottom of the fifth, using three straight singles from Holcombe, Vance and then Salem to plate one.
The Gamecocks added one more in the top of the seventh with a bases-loaded sac fly to right to regain the two-run lead.
In the bottom of the seventh, Holcombe led off with a single and one out later Salem singled to put runners on the corners for Taylor. The freshman delivered with a single down the right field line to make it 7-6.
A bloop single got that run back for South Carolina in the eighth.
Bama again closed to within a run in the bottom of the eighth as Hunter Webb walked and Holcombe was hit by a pitch. Vance hit a grounder, but was safe on a throwing error that allowed Webb to score, but the Tide could get no more. The Gamecocks scored an insurance run in the ninth.
The game ended Bama’s season in its rebuilt stadium with a 19-12 home mark. Attendance Sunday was 4,308 and the season average was 4,611.
The Tide has now homered in each of its last seven games.
Salem goes into the SEC Tournament with a 12-game hitting streak. Taylor has reached base safely in 18 consecutive league games and in 27 of the 29 conference games in which he played. Will Haynie’s hitting streak ended at nine games.
Alabama starter Jon Keller threw 66 pitches, his second highest total of the season, and gave up eight hits and four runs in his four innings. Dylan Duarte, the second of four relief pitchers, went one inning, allowing three hits and two runs, and took the loss.