TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Just when it looked as if the ball was finally rolling the Crimson Tide’s way, a play you don’t see every day happened, reminding the Alabama faithful that the times have not yet changed for a baseball team fighting to forge an identity.
Less than 24 hours after Alabama catcher Brett Booth broke a five-game losing streak with a walk off two-run homer against Ole Miss, the Tide squandered a two-run lead in the eighth inning on Sunday with a series-clinching victory in sight.
Ole Miss, trailing Alabama by one run in the top of the eighth inning, hit a deep fly ball with the bases loaded and one out. The ball was catchable as Taylor Dugas drifted back to the descending white spec on the warning track in center field. Dugas caught the ball and fired it home. But by the time it reached Booth, two runs had scored and the Rebels took the lead for good.
The Rebels tacked on three more runs to beat the Tide, 8-4. The loss drops Alabama to 9-15 overall and 1-5 in the SEC.
“I’ve seen it before but not often,” said UA coach Mitch Gaspard of the two-run sacrifice fly. “I kind of figured on the ball right there with a pretty good runner at second base and the way Taylor caught the ball running backwards that it would be a tough play. That was really the one that got their momentum going and broke our back.”
A disappointed Gaspard said his team is struggling with the reality of having a young, inexperienced team. Every time Alabama gains momentum one day, it’s loses it the next.
“It’s tough,” Gaspard said. “It seems like we’ve had two or three of those opportunities now to where we could really build on the momentum from the day before and we just haven’t been able to finish them.”
Senior Jared Reaves, who was part of the team that reached an NCAA Regional last year, said dealing with the inconsistency has been difficult. Watching two runs score on the sacrifice fly was “heartbreaking” to the Tide shortstop.
“That’s kind of how it seems to be right now,” Reaves said of the late rally by Ole Miss. “I thought offensively we were good. Defensively we were good and the pitching has been great the past few days. It’s unfortunate to have that happen, but that’s baseball.
“Coming out after last night with Booth hitting that walk off and then today you have a lead and all of the sudden in one inning they put up a four-spot, that’s how it is. As soon as you get that spot where you think you’re fixing to go you step back again. It’s a little frustrating.”
Alabama got on the board first when Ole Miss pitcher Mike Mayers fielded an AJ Cole bunt and sailed the throw over the third baseman’s head, scoring Austen Smith who started the inning off with a double down the left field line. Cole came around to score on a groundout by Taylor Dugas.
Ole Miss tied the game up in the top of the fifth on a two-run home run from Preston Overbey that went off the scoreboard in left-center field.
UA rallied in the next half-inning, scoring two runs on a two-out single through the box from Reaves, scoring Dugas and Ben Moore.
Ole Miss came back in the top of the eighth with a two-run sacrifice fly, followed by an RBI single. The Rebels scored two more runs in the top of the ninth on a two-run home run from Matt Snyder.
Freshman Spencer Turnbull took the loss, his second of the year. Turnbull, Taylor Guilbeau and Jay Shaw threw the final 2.1 innings, surrendering seven hits and six runs. Lefty Jon Keller started the game, throwing 6.2 innings of two-run baseball, striking out six.
Alabama will travel to Birmingham to face UAB on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.