Alabama secured the weekend series sweep of Valparaiso with a 12-6 victory on Sunday afternoon at Sewell-Thomas Stadium to improve to 3-0 on the young season. The offense provided some late insurance after the Tide was forced to call on its bullpen early on the way to a win on getaway day.
“Today, for nine innings, we really focused and competed well,” said Alabama head coach Brad Bohannon. “The other two days there were some periods of time where we were either trying to do too much or we lost focus. We put together nine innings of competitive at-bats. We’ve got some guys who can hit, I think we can be a good offensive group.”
Junior Keith Holcombe paced the offense, finishing a perfect 4-for-4 with a walk, coming up a double short of the cycle on Sunday. Holcombe added a team-high three RBI and four runs scored – both of which are new career-high marks for the third-year player. Four other players finished with multi-hit games, including freshman catcher Sam Praytor, who went 3-for-5 with one RBI and a run scored on the afternoon. Eight of the nine Alabama starters finished with at least one hit in the contest, while all nine reached base safely.
The Crimson Tide bullpen dominated after an early exit from junior starter Sam Gardner, with the duo of sophomore Davis Vainer and freshman Brock Guffey working the final 5.1 innings and allowing only two hits while striking out seven. Making an early appearance, Vainer (1-0) tossed a career-high tying 3.2 frames, allowing two hits with one walk and adding four strikeouts to earn his first career win. Guffey followed with 1.2 innings of no-hit baseball, finishing the game with three of his five out coming by way of the strikeout for the save.
“One of the stories the last few days for me, is the bullpen,” Bohannon added. “Davis (Vainer) and Brock (Guffey) today, along with Kyle (Cameron) and Dylan (Duarte) yesterday, were outstanding. Pitching out of the bullpen is hard, and all four of those guys came in and pounded the strike zone with multiple pitches. If we can pitch out of the bullpen like that consistently, we can put ourselves in a position to be very successful.”
Alabama struck first in the series finale, putting up a four-spot in the first to gain an early advantage. Senior Chandler Avant started the rally, reaching on a fielder’s choice and advancing to second on a throwing error to put himself in scoring position with one down. In the next at-bat, Joe Breaux, a junior, cashed in on the opportunity with a double to score Avant, crossing the Tide’s first run of the day.
Senior Hunter Alexander followed with a single to left to bring in Breaux for the inning’s second run. After advancing to second on a groundout, Alexander would score thanks to a triple from Holcombe. Praytor continued the inning’s hot hitting, sending a single through the left side to score Holcombe and set the tally at 4-0 after one inning of play.
Valparaiso responded in the next half inning, plating five to move in front, 5-4. The Crusaders led off the frame with a solo home run for their first run of the day. Three straight singles and a walk would bring in one more, before a fielder’s choice crossed the inning’s third run. A stolen base and then a single two outs later crossed a pair, including the tying and go-ahead runs for Valpo.
The Tide would answer in the home half of the second, using a pair of two-out double to tie the game. Avant collected the first two-bagger of the inning, putting one off the wall in left. Breaux then found a gap in left-center to bring in the Tide’s second baseman, setting the score at 5-5 after two innings of play.
Alabama came back to regain the lead in the bottom of the third with three runs on four hits to make it an 8-5 contest. A pair of singles to start the frame from sophomore John Trousdale and Holcombe put two aboard before a fielder’s choice notched the inning’s first out. A Jett Manning single put the junior at first and loaded the bases for the Tide before a double to right-center from sophomore Walker McCleney brought in two runs for UA. A wild pitch in the next at-bat brought in one more run for Alabama to push the advantage to three runs through three innings of action.
Valpo narrowed the gap in the fourth with a two-out triple before a single in the next at-bat crossed one, making it an 8-6 game. The Tide would allow Valpo to get no closer, adding one run in the sixth and three in the eighth to add insurance while the bullpen held the Crusaders off the board to secure the victory.
With one down in the sixth, Holcombe sent a solo shot to right field, notching his first career home run to move the Tide’s lead to 9-6 after six full. Alexander began the scoring sequence in the eighth, reaching on a leadoff walk, before scoring on a double from Trousdale. In the next at-bat, Holcombe collected his fourth hit of the day, sending a single through the right side to score Trousdale and make it an 11-6 game. After a pair of hit-by-pitches loaded the bases, Avant drew a bases-loaded walk to score one more and set the tally at 12-6, the eventual final.
Alabama will return to the diamond on Tuesday afternoon as Middle Tennessee comes to town for a single midweek contest at Sewell-Thomas Stadium. The Tide will look to redshirt freshman Garret Rukes, a left-hander, in the start. First pitch of the matchup between the Crimson Tide and Blue Raiders is set for 3 p.m. CT with the game airing live on SEC Network+.

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