Photo by Austin Bigoney from The Crimson White
By Cooper Huskey
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — When 2020 season was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Alabama baseball team was sad to see a promising year go to waste. The Crimson Tide won their first 14 games of the season, which was the best start to a season in program history since 1997. There were high expectations for this team heading into conference play, but they didn’t get a chance to prove themselves against tough SEC competition.
The good news is that the Crimson Tide seem to be picking up right where they left off last season. Alabama opened the season last weekend by sweeping the McNeese Cowboys. Alabama’s offense was the star of the series by outscoring the Cowboys 23-14 and hitting seven home runs. The bats were hot for the Crimson Tide and they made McNeese pay for it.
Game 1: Alabama 10, McNeese 6
The Crimson Tide took an early lead in game one by scoring two runs in the bottom of the first inning. Peyton Wilson scored the first run on a single by Drew Williamson. The second run came from a balk by McNeese’s pitcher Will Dion, scoring Sam Praytor.
Alabama got two more runs in the bottom of the third inning from a 2-run blast to left field by Sam Praytor, scoring himself and Owen Diodati. Praytor hit the home run off the first pitch of the at bat, and the ball fell just between the wall and the scoreboard.
In the fifth inning, Alabama would make it 5-0 off a solo home run by Wilson. Like Praytor, Wilson’s home run went to left field and hit the scoreboard. Unlike Praytor in the third inning, Wilson fouled a couple balls off to force a full count when he went deep.
On the defensive side, Connor Prielipp was shutting down the Cowboys. He pitched the first five innings, giving up four hits, no runs, and striking out eight batters. This dominant performance from Prielipp would be enough to earn him the win.
Tyler Ras would give up all six runs to McNeese, but the runs were spread out over multiple innings: three runs in the top of the sixth and three runs in the top of the eight. However, McNeese never took the lead during the game thanks to Alabama’s potent offense in the seventh inning.
In the seventh inning, Alabama scored five runs off two hits and one error, all with two outs on the board. The first two runs of the inning came from a Williamson double that scored Praytor and Wilson. Then, after Davis Heller walked to put two men on the bases, Zane Denton hit an RBI single to bring Williamson home and move Heller to third. Will Hamiter then drew another walk to load the bases for Caden Rose, who would be the ninth Alabama batter of the inning. Rose would get on base on an error by the McNeese shortstop, scoring Denton and Heller to give the Crimson Tide there final runs of the game.
Brock Guffey came into pitch in the top of the ninth and shut down McNeese to get a final score of 10-6.
Game 2: Alabama 4, McNeese 3
It took all nine innings in Saturday’s game, but the Alabama pulled out a win in the nick of time. This game was highlighted by the Crimson Tide’s adversity and grit.
Antoine Jean got the game started off right for Alabama by pitching three innings, only giving up one hit and striking out four batters. Jean did give up four walks too which led to his high pitch count and eventually being pulled after just three innings. Jacob McNairy would come in relief, and he is who the Cowboys would get their runs against.
McNeese put the first runs on the board in this game. They got one run in the fifth off an RBI double and then two more in the sixth on another RBI double.
Alabama’s bats had been quiet for most of the game, but started to come to life in the seventh inning. Hamiter walked on four pitches and then advanced to second on a passed ball. Denton then singled up the middle to bring Hamiter home to cut the deficit from three to two.
Alabama continued scoring in the eighth. With Wilson on second and 2-0 count, Diodati crushed a ball to right center to tie the game up at 3. This was the momentum shifting play in the game. Diodati’s home run to tie the game proved to both teams and the fans in the stands that Alabama was going to fight back and win this game.
In the top of the ninth, Chase Lee came into the game to shut down the Cowboys. he gave up a hit to one batter, but then got the next batter to ground into a double play.
In the bottom of the ninth, Denton became the hero for the Tide. With one out and nobody on, Denton slammed a 1-2 pitch to right field to walk of the game for Alabama. Everyone at the Joe knew it was gone the moment it came off of Denton’s bat. Alabama rushed to home plate to greet Denton with high fives and a Gatorade bath.
Game 3: Alabama 9, McNeese 5
Alabama clinched the sweep on an offensive showcase in game three. The Crimson Tide’s offense was very active during Sunday’s game.
Alabama scored their first run in the second inning when Hamiter flied out to right to bring home Praytor.
The Crimson Tide would score again in the fourth inning when the lead off batter Williamson went deep on a 1-1 pitch to right field. The scoring would continue for Alabama in the fourth inning. A couple of batters later, Denton would hit a single, advance to second on a wild pitch, advance to third on a passed ball, and finally be brought home on Rose single.
Denton would score again for the Crimson Tide in the fifth inning. With Diodati on first and two outs, Denton swung on the first pitch and launched a ball to left field to record his second home run of the series. This home run would give Alabama a 5-4 lead, a lead that they would not give away.
Not to be out done by his teammate, Diodati hit his second home run, Alabama’s seventh of the series, in the sixth inning. To make things more special, the bases were loaded for Diodati giving him his first grand slam of his college career. The smash would give Alabama their final four runs to total 9 on the game.
On the defensive side, Dylan Smith, who was a bullpen guy last year and has now become a starter, was shutting down the Cowboys early in the game. Through 4.2 innings, Smith allowed two runs off of five hits. He also struck out five batters. Grayson Hitt came in to relieve Smith and pitched some shaky innings, even allowing McNeese to get the lead at one point, which took the decision away from Smith. Hitt would get the win on the day thanks to Denton’s and Diodati’s blasts out of the park. Guffey came in for the last 1.1 innings and shut down McNeese, earning himself the save.
Overall Series Thoughts and Look Ahead
Alabama played great this series. They showed our potent their offense is with seven home runs. They also show their adversity and grit by getting out of a jam and winning on a walk-off on Saturday.
Alabama will have two mid-week games this week traveling to Jacksonville State on Tuesday and then hosting UT Martin on Wednesday. The Tide’s weekend series will be against Wright State in Tuscaloosa.