TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Kenny Roberts planted his left foot, swung his hips and drilled the ball high into the cool night air, well over the left field wall. The University of Alabama dugout emptied and four base runners touched home plate, giving the Crimson Tide a comfortable lead, and resurrected, if only for a moment, a program in need of any sign of life.
The five-run lead generated by Roberts’ blast was in peril before there was time for coach Mitch Gaspard to enjoy it. The Alabama bats fell silent over the next four innings and Auburn mounted a comeback, scoring four runs.
But in the bottom of the eighth with a one-run lead looking a hair too thin for the Tide, Alabama did something it hasn’t done all year -- respond. UA scored three runs in the bottom of the eighth to seal a Game 1 victory over Auburn, 10-6.
When Taylor Dugas rocketed the three-run triple down the right field line -- giving the senior the school record for triples -- Sewell-Thomas Stadium woke up and the crowd of 5,258 got to do something it's done one other time in SEC play this season -- celebrate a win.
After the game, Gaspard pointed to Dugas’ extra-base hit as the turning point in the game. With Auburn coming on, the Tide’s unquestioned leader shut the door, with a historical emphasis.
“Not only does he break the triples record, but it was the biggest blow of the night,” Gaspard said. “It kind of put the nail in the coffin there are at the end.”
Dugas said he was excited for the win and pointed to the triples record as one of the reasons he came back to Alabama for his senior year. He was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the eighth round, but turned the money down for moments like Friday night.
“It was a good time for it to happen,” Dugas said.
Timing was something missing for Roberts prior to his third-inning grand slam. Coming into the at-bat, the junior college transfer was 2 for his last 32 at the plate.
Roberts entered the season as the presumptive No. 2 hitter behind Dugas with the expectation of providing the Tide with the offensive firepower missing from last year. Through 29 games, it looked as if Roberts wouldn’t live up to his high billing.
But game No. 30 proved to be the lucky charm.
“I’m glad it finally came,” Roberts said of the home run. “It’s been very difficult because I put in the work and the results didn’t show.
“It’s finally starting to click for me”
Roberts struggles can be closely tied to that of the Crimson Tide as a whole. Even as the Tide road a five-run lead midway through the game, there seemed to be a sense of inevitability, as if the success couldn’t be sustained.
But when Roberts got his second hit of the night and Dugas threw the second haymaker in the eighth, the doubt and second-guessing dissipated.
“I knew Auburn was going to swing it well,” Roberts said. “I knew we had to stay on the sticks. ... I knew we would put up a fight, and we did.”
Said Gaspard of continuing to battle into this weekend and beyond: “It’s really important for us, especially where we’re at. And I think we will. I think, as far as effort and intensity, that will continue.”