Baseball fights back to take much-needed series from Auburn

Tzali Nislick, Staff Reporter

Any time Alabama and Auburn are matched up, regardless of the sport, it means something. With the two rivals heading into the weekend tied in the SEC baseball standings, fighting to keep their SEC Tournament hopes alive, there was some extra flavor added to this rendition of the ‘Iron Bowl of Baseball.’ Pressure makes diamonds, and it was the Alabama Crimson Tide (26-11, 6-9) that shined the brightest in its series win over the Tigers. 

Alabama did not get off to a hot start, dropping the Friday night opener 8-4 in unceremonious fashion. The Auburn (20-15-1, 5-10) pitching staff blanked the Crimson Tide through the first eight frames and despite looking strong through the first six innings, starter Luke Holman unraveled in the seventh.  

“I’m really proud of Luke. I wish he had a better finish. We’re obviously a little light on the mound this weekend. I had no interest in going to the [bullpen] early tonight,” Alabama head coach Brad Bohannon said Friday.  

The Alabama skipper later announced junior lefty Grayson Hitt would be sidelined indefinitely due to injury, joining fellow starter Ben Hess as the latest Crimson Tide casualty, leaving a suddenly thin rotation. This meant that the struggling bullpen would have to supplement a Garrett McMillan spot start on Saturday and Jacob McNairy’s first weekend outing in five weeks on Sunday.  

The pressure was on. 

McMillan responded with easily his best performance of his injury-marred season, turning in five shutout innings while carrying a no-hit bid into the sixth. Alabama desperately needed him to deliver a gem, and he did just that, putting the club on his back to even up the series. 

“It felt good. Attacking hitters with fastballs, just getting ahead in the count, just being 0-2 to every batter pretty much. It definitely felt good to get back in rhythm,” McMillan said. 

Clinging to a 4-1 lead in the ninth inning, Bohannon turned to freshman Alton Davis II in relief for the final three outs. Davis II inherited a jam, so the run he allowed that cut the difference to two wasn’t credited to him. However, the other two runners on base represented the potential for the save opportunity being too big a moment for the young southpaw. He punched back, recording a strikeout and inducing a double play to end Auburn’s rally and hold on for the victory. 

“Alton was amazing coming in to close it out. We really needed to win,” Bohannon said. 

The pitching’s heroics set up a chance on Sunday for something Alabama hadn’t done in six weeks: win a series.  

McNairy gave the Crimson Tide his best effort on short rest, but lasted just 3.2 innings before the ball was turned to the bullpen again. Freshman Riley Quick rose to the occasion, twirling 3.2 scoreless innings of his own amid an Alabama comeback.  

“I feel like I had good command of my four-seam fastball,” Quick said. “Usually I throw a sinker but I just really leaned on the four-seam and slider today, and I felt that I had good command of both of those pitches.”  

Leading 3-1 with runners on the corners and two outs in the seventh inning, Bohannon decided to attempt a gutsy play. First baseman Drew Williamson took off for second, distracting the Tigers’ pitcher while shortstop Jim Jarvis bolted from third base to pull off a steal of home, adding an insurance run.  

“I got scared when [the pitcher] stepped off. He looked at Drew for a second and looked back at me and I thought I was going to have to get in a rundown, but it all worked out,” Jarvis said.  

In another aggressive move, Bohannon opted to go back to Davis II for a five-out save. No Alabama pitcher had pitched in two consecutive days this season, but there Davis II was, a freshman looking for another save to clinch the series. He was phenomenal again and the Crimson Tide secured its second straight win. 

“He’s the one who took the ball and went out and executed pitches. He deserves the credit,” Bohannon said. 

This weekend meant a lot for Alabama. Not only did it defeat its vaunted rival, but it also gained some momentum in the standings heading into the back half of its conference schedule. The Crimson Tide got the monkey off its back, winning its first SEC series of the year and the bullpen appeared back to form compared to the previous month. 

Next on the calendar for Alabama is a matchup against The University of Alabama at Birmingham on Tuesday, April 18. First pitch is set for 6 p.m. in Birmingham.  

Questions or comments? Email Blake Byler (Sports Editor) at [email protected]