The book on Alabama hitting is an open book. Mississippi State started a pitcher who had never started a Southeastern Conference game in the SEC Tournament against the Crimson Tide on Wednesday, and he throttled Bama batters. Florida, which had played into the wee hours Thursday morning before losing to LSU, came back with another pitcher making his first against an SEC team and the Gators prevailed, 5-4.
Thus, Alabama exited the SEC Tournament at Hoover with a 1-2 record and only the faintest of hopes for an invitation to the NCAA Tournament when the selections are announced Monday.
Bama’s hitting had been suspect all year, even though the Crimson Tide seemed to come to life late in the season. That may have been fool’s gold as Alabama was picking up five wins against only one loss in its last two SEC series, but against the league’s two worst teams – Arkansas and Auburn.
As had been the case Wednesday, Alabama had unchracteristically poor pitching. Starter Jake Walters made it only into the third inning before being lifted as he gave up four runs, primarily because he gave up seven walks.
If a paper bag had been placed over the Hoover Met, Alabama would have had a difficult time batting its way out. As has been the case for much of the year, and magnified in the SEC Tournament. Thursday was a typical day as Alabama had only six hits, and the only production from the first four starters in the lineup was a bunt single by Georgie Salem. There was also an RBI single from Connor Short, who batted for Keith Holcombe in the seventh inning.
Holcombe was 0-3, Cobbie Vance 0-4, Salem 1-4, and Chandler Taylor 0-3 with a walk.
Alabama was also handicapped when the Tide’s No. 2 RBI man, Chance Vincent, had to leave the game with a stomach ailment. He had gone 1-1 and scored a run before leaving.
Also has been the case in the tournament, the bottom of the Tide lineup had some success, Daniel Cucjen with a two-run double and Hunter Webb a run-scoring double from the eighth and nine holes respectively.
Alabama has survived much of the season of little offensive production with good defense and consistent pitching. Bama did not get its usual game from starter Jake Walters, who managed only two full innings and a few batters into the third before he was replaced by Matt Foster. Walters allowed four earned runs, walked five, and struck out two. It was his shortest outing of the season.
“Jake (Walters) has been so good for us all year, but he just didn’t have the command today that he’s had throughout the course of the season,” said Alabama Coach Mitch Gaspard. “With that being said, the offense was able to put together a good inning (in the third) and take the lead. (Matt Foster) was tremendous and gave us a chance throughout the course of the game, but we just couldn’t muster up any offense. Florida is obviously one of the top-ranked teams in the country, and they proved that today.”
Foster finished up the third and had a total of five innings of scoreless baseball, allowing three hits, walking two, and striking out three.
Thomas Burrows went the last two innings, giving up the winning run in the eighth.
Bama might have expected to have a freshmen advantage on the Gators. After Alabama fell to the loser’s bracket with a loss to Mississippi State Wednesday, Florida and LSU played a 14-inning game, finally won by the Tigers at 1:48 a.m. The Gators had just 11 hours and seven minutes from the end of the Wednesday night game until Thursday’s early afternoon start against the Tide, first pitch at 12:55 p.m.
Florida, defending SEC Tournament champion, was ranked No. 1 in the nation much of the season.
Florida right-hander Brady Singer (5-4) held Alabama to one hit in 5-of-6 innings pitched before Gators Coach Kevin O'Sullivan heavily rotated a deep Gators bullpen, utilizing five relievers to close out the final three innings. Sophomore Nick Horvath (2-1) earned just his second win of the season and right-hander Shaun Anderson earned his eleventh save.
Florida scored on run in the first inning without a hit, three walks and a groundout making it 1-0.
Alabama responded in the second inning with four hits and three runs to take a 3-1 lead. Singles by Will Haynie and Vincent put two runners on base. Facing two outs, Cucjen smacked a 2 RBI double down the left-field line. Webb stepped up to the plate next, doubling to left center, bringing Cucjen in for a two-run lead.
The Florida batters woke up in the third, taking a 4-3 lead with three runs and three hits.
Short’s pinch-hit single tied the game at 4-4 in the seventh.
O'Sullivan pulled one last pitching rotation out of his pocket, sending Nick Horvath (2-1) in, who retired Georgie Salem to close the inning.
Burrows gave up the winning run when Florida’s Danny Reyes – who had just two hits all season – doubled in Mike Rivera.
It was the first loss of the year for Burrows.
Alabama is now 32-26 on the season and waiting to see if it can snag an NCAA Tournament bid. Florida improved to 35-0 when it scores five runs or more and 8-5 in games decided by one run. The Gators are 45-12.