TUSCALOOSA. Ala. -- It certainly wasn’t the way anyone drew it up. Alabama was handed a win on a silver platter Wednesday night, scoring five runs in the bottom of the ninth against Samford for a comeback win, 6-5.
Alabama scored five runs on just two hits in the final frame -- one an infield single. Samford imploded, walking two batters, hitting another and committing a key error to lead to the game-tying and game-winning runs.
The Tide poured out of the dugout in celebration on the game-winning fielder’s choice from Ben Moore, mobbing the freshman catcher/outfielder in what was by all accounts a much-needed victory. Sunk two games below .500 with SEC play looming Friday, a win, no matter how ugly, sufficed.
“At this point, yeah, I’d say we’d take it any way we can get it,” Moore said after the game. “I think before it’s said and done that won’t be our identity.”
Right now, Alabama’s identity is up in the air. The bullpen and starting rotation hasn’t found its groove and the offense continues to jolt up and down like a knotted yo-yo. Against Samford, the Tide caught a break. UA had just three hits heading into the ninth and needed only two more to pull out the win. Situations like that are few and far between.
“It wasn’t pretty but there was some magic there in the ninth,” said senior leadoff man Taylor Dugas. “Our guys stayed with it the whole game. We didn’t swing it well but we found a way to win and I think that’s the most important thing.”
Dugas said the lead up to SEC play has been trying with many starters finding themselves on the bench and the team in search of consistency.
“It’s definitely been a grind,” Dugas said. “Most of the teams we played are going to be in regionals. We just got thrown into it a little early. I don’t know if we were quite ready for it, but I think we’ve gotten a lot better as a team and it will only help us in SEC play.”
While it’s true the likes of Southern Miss and Florida Atlantic might make the postseason, the schedule Alabama faced in its first 17 games isn’t exactly the level of competition the SEC will bring. Arkansas will put two future first-round picks on the mound over the weekend while Alabama will turn to at least one freshmen and junior Charley Sullivan, who started just two games last year.
Yes, the talent could be in the dugout for Alabama to succeed. But until it matures, how the team performs is up in the air.
Little has been settled for coach Mitch Gaspard’s staff. Freshman Taylor Guilbeau appears to be the only solid bet in the rotation, and Dugas the only sure thing in the batting order. Kenny Roberts has slid from second in the order to sixth, due in large part to other players production as well as his own. In the meantime, Austen Smith, the starter at first base for all but four games last year, has already failed to start seven games in 2012, hitting a paltry .244 with 4 RBIs and 16 strikeouts.
Moore has been one of the lone bright spots in an otherwise underwhelming crop of newcomers. A.J. Cole, the presumed starter at third, has appeared in just two games since the season-opening series against Florida Atlantic. Cameron Carlisle has held his own as a rookie, batting .250 with 6 RBIs, but hasn’t done enough to take over one of the corner outfield spots. Even junior college transfer Ian Gardeck has had trouble settling into his role as closer. His upper 90s fastball has been erratic at times which led to the staff setting him down for more than a week after surrendering a game-winning grand slam at Tulane.
For Alabama to have any hope of competing in a league that features seven top-25 teams, veterans and rookies alike must take a giant leap forward.
Against Samford, Gaspard hopes he saw a move in the right direction. For many teams, a win by way of an error, two walks and an infield hit wouldn’t be much to celebrate. But Alabama isn’t one of those teams.
“For this team, it does a lot,” Gaspard said of the win. "We’ve certainly had our misfortune as we’ve gone through and some poor play. I think the energy to really take this and have a travel day tomorrow and feel good. It also gives you that feel that you can win a game late.
“Really that’s what we needed right now to get some momentum as we move into Arkansas this weekend.”