Both Alabama Coach Mitch Gaspard and Kentucky Coach Gary Henderson believe that Tuesday afternoon’s Southeastern Conference baseball game could have a bearing on having an opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament.
Alabama (15-15 in SEC play and 31-24) is the No. 9 seed in the 12-team tournament, while No. 8 seed Kentucky is also 15-15 in the conference and is 32-24 overall. Tuesday’s single elimination game in the SEC Tournament at the Hoover Met in suburban Birmingham is at 4:30 p.m. CDT and will be televised on the SEC Network.
In regular season play, Kentucky took two of three games from the Crimson Tide in Lexington in early April. The Wildcats won the first game 3-21 and the second game 6-2 before Alabama rebounded with a 2-1 lead to salvage a game in the series. The winner of that Sunday game for the Tide was Nick Eicholtz, and he will start against Kentucky Tuesday.
In Lexington, Eicholtz was outstanding. He pitched 7 2/3 innings, allowing only one run on three hits with a walk and three strikeouts. The junior retired the first nine batters he faced before giving up a single, and then followed that hit with a streak of eight straight sat down before issuing a walk. Eicholtz recorded the first two outs of the eighth before giving up a single to end his day.
Eicholtz is 3-3 with a 2.25 earned run average.
The Wildcats will counter with sophomore left-hander Zach Logue. Logue has made 16 appearances in 2016, eight of which have been starts, and has a 2.25 ERA. He has struck out 36 compared to 13 walks and is limiting opposing hitters to a .241 average.
Although offense has been the issue for Alabama much of this season, the Tide has been getting good production from the top of the lineup recently. In the final week of regular season play (which included being swept by South Carolina) the first four in the Bama lineup – Keith Holcombe, Cobie Vance, Georgie Salem, and Chandler Taylor -- batted .412 (28-68) with four doubles, four home runs, 16 RBI, 16 runs scored, eight walks and four stolen bases. Each hitter recorded at least six hits and three runs scored. Those four contributed eight of the 10 extra-base hits, 16-of-20 RBI, and 16 of the 21 runs.
Coming off a rough weekend where South Carolina played very well.
This contest of teams with a .500 winning percentage in SEC games is being cast as a play-in game for the NCAA Tournament. Alabama Coach Mitch Gaspard said, “We feel good about our resume right now being 15-15 in the league, but the winner Tuesday is going to feel better and the loser is going to be on pins and needles for a week. But you don’t change what you do. You go out and play your game. Anytime you are 15-15 you are going to be on the bubble, but I think 15-15 in this conference is an accomplishment.”
Gaspard pointed out that the expectations for Alabama baseball this year “weren’t extremely high. I thought we had some good moments – big series wins with LSU and Ole Miss – but also had some lows, particularly getting swept by South Carolina.
“But we’ve put ourselves in position to reach a regional and a win or so would build our resume. Want to continue to play.”
Kentucky Coach Gary Henderson said he thinks his team not only has to win the Tuesday game, but also win on Wednesday against Mississippi State.
The loser of Tuesday’s game is finished for the season barring an NCAA Regional appointment, while the winner moves to the double elimination phase of the tournament and takes on regular season SEC champion Mississippi State at 4:30 p.m. CDT Wednesday.