AUBURN, Ala. – Alabama baseball secured the series win and the Saturday sweep over fourth-ranked Auburn with a pair of one-run victories at Plainsman Park. The Tide came away with a 4-3 win in the series opener before holding off a late Tiger rally for the 7-6 victory in the day’s second game. With the two wins, the Tide is now 17-29 on the season and 4-19 in SEC play.
“Our guys were really ready to play in a very important series, a big rivalry weekend,” said Alabama head coach Greg Goff. “Our team woke up this morning and I could tell from the moment I saw them that they were ready to compete. When they got off the bus today, I knew they were going to be ready for this challenge against one of the top teams in the country.”
Chandler Taylor highlighted the Alabama offense, finishing 3-for-8 on the day with two home runs, a pair of RBI, two runs scored and a walk. Davis Vainer led the Tide pitchers with a save in each game and five combined strikeouts. Game one starter Jake Walters picked up the win in the series opener while reliever Zac Rogers earned the victory in the nightcap.
The Crimson Tide claimed a 4-3 win in the series opener with the Tigers. Alabama received a strong combined pitching effort from the trio of Walters, Garrett Suchey and Vainer for the victory.
“(Jake Walters) has thrown well for us lately, and he did it again today,” said Goff of his starter. “He fought to give us a chance and get it to our bullpen. It was great to see our offense give him some support and to see our relievers hold off such a good team like Auburn on the back-end.”
Walters (5-4) earned the win with 5.0 innings of one-run baseball, allowing five hits, walking four and striking out one batter in the starting effort. He was followed by Suchey, who tossed 3.2 innings and allowed two runs on three hits before exiting with two down in the ninth. Vainer collected his fourth save of the season, striking out the final batter of the game to strand the tying run at first and secure the victory for UA.
Taylor paced the Alabama offense, tying his season high for hits with a 3-for-4 day that included two home runs – both solo shots – two RBI, two runs scored and one walk. The multi-homer game was the second of Taylor’s career, with the sophomore also accomplishing the feat on Feb. 18 of this season against Presbyterian. Also contributing a multi-hit effort was Alex Webb, who finished 2-for-3 to extend his hitting streak to six games.
Alabama struck first in the series opener, posting two runs in the top of the second. Taylor opened the inning with a solo home run to straightaway center to put the Tide on the board. UA then loaded the bases before a two-out single deep in the hole at short from Chandler Avant scored the inning’s second run, making it 2-0. Auburn added one in the bottom of the second, using a bases-loaded single on a flare to left to cut the deficit to 2-1 heading to the third inning.
The Tide came back to score one more in top of the fourth. Cody Henry reached on an error to lead off the frame before a one-out double from Connor Short to deepest part of the park in left-center brought Henry around to make it a 3-1 game in favor of Alabama.
Taylor increased the Tide lead with his second home run of the afternoon, a solo shot to right-center that left the park in a hurry, expanding the UA advantage to 4-1 entering the stretch. Following the break, Auburn answered with a pair of runs, using three hits, two of which came with two down, to set the board a 4-3 heading into the final two frames.
Suchey ran into trouble in the ninth when the tying run reached on an error with two outs. The Tide then went to the bullpen, bringing in Vainer to record the day’s final out with a strikeout swinging.
The Crimson Tide held off a late rally from the Tigers, as Alabama secured the 7-6 win in the day’s second game.
Alabama and Auburn traded runs throughout the first six frames before UA put up two in both the seventh and eighth innings for needed insurance. Auburn rallied for two in the bottom of the eighth and one in the ninth with the tying and winning runs on base, but Vainer shut the door for his fifth save of the season and his second on the day. Rogers (2-1) claimed his second win of the season with 1.0 inning of scoreless relief.
Seven of the nine Alabama starters recorded at least one hit in game two with seven also recording at least one run scored. The Tide offense was paced by Kyle Kaufman, who finished 2-for-4 with two RBI and a run scored. Kaufman’s bases-loaded single in the eighth plated both of his RBI and would eventually prove the difference in the one-run evening affair.
Alabama jumped out front with a two-run third to take the early lead. A one-out single from Connor Short followed by a double into the right field corner by Walker McCleney put two in scoring position. Avant sent a sharp grounder to second in the next at-bat, with the ball getting by the fielder to score both runners and make it a 2-0 game. The Tigers answered with two runs in the bottom of the fourth, using a one-out, solo home run followed by a pair of singles and a sacrifice fly to make it 2-2 after four.
The sixth saw the two teams trade runs. Alabama regained the lead in the top half, with Avant doubling to lead off the inning and moving to third on an infield groundout. Cobie Vance then delivered in the run-scoring spot, sending a single to right to bring the man from third in and make it a 3-2 game. Auburn tallied a solo home run with one down in the bottom of the inning to set things at three apiece heading to the seventh.
In the seventh, Alabama plated a pair to move in front once again. Kaufman led off the inning with a single before advancing to second on a wild pitch. Sam Finnerty promptly brought him home, sending a 2-0 pitch down line in right for an RBI-double. Finnerty then moved to third on a wild pitch, putting himself 90 feet away. With the man at third, UA called on a pinch-hitter, Zack Coker, who executed the suicide squeeze perfectly to cross Finnerty and make it a 5-3 game heading to the stretch.
Alabama tallied two more in the eighth to set the score at 7-3. A pair of errors allowed Webb and Vance to reach before a one-out single to left from Hunter Alexander loaded the bases. With men at every base, Kaufman fought off a pitch for a bloop single to right, scoring both runners to widen the gap to four.
The Tigers cut the lead in half with two in the eighth. A pair of singles and an error placed runners in scoring position before a fielder’s choice crossed the first run for AU. One out later, a single to center scored one more to make it 7-5 with still two in scoring position. Vainer worked through the tight situation, striking out the Tiger hitter on three straight pitches for the final out of the inning to keep the game in Alabama’s favor. In the ninth, Auburn scored one and had the tying and winning run on the corners, but Vainer got the 3-2 backwards K to end it and send UA home with the series victory.
“(Davis Vainer) was tremendous,” said Goff of his closer. “He had great presence for a redshirt freshman, and he continues to grow each outing. It’s been awesome to see him continue to mature in our program, and tonight he showed a lot of heart to get us both of those saves in such tough situations. I’m really proud of him and the way he helped us come away with two wins tonight.”
Alabama will go for the sweep of fourth-ranked Auburn tomorrow afternoon at Plainsman Park. The Crimson Tide will call on senior right-hander Nick Eicholtz, while the Tigers counter with freshman righty Davis Daniel. The weekend finale can be seen nationally on SEC Network with a 4 p.m. CT first pitch.