UA wins series over Tigers

Kevin Connell

At this point, it’s almost routine.

Courtesy of freshman Casey Hughston’s double, the No. 9-ranked Alabama baseball team had its fifth walk-off hit of the season to clinch a 4-3 victory and the series against Auburn at Sewell-Thomas Stadium Sunday.

With the score tied at 3-3 in the bottom of the ninth inning, Hughston hit a two-out double off the right field wall to score freshman pinch runner Colton Freeman from second for the game-winning run. Alabama has now had a walk-off hit in five of its six home series this season with the latest three coming against Southeastern Conference opponents.

“This team seems to have a flair for the dramatic. There’s no question,” Alabama coach Mitch Gaspard said. “When you look at all the things they’ve accomplished this year, when you walk off, time and time again, you start to have a great belief that you can do it late in games, and that’s what’s happening right now with our guys. When it gets late, we feel like we’re going to win the game.”

(See also “UA baseball team falls in midweek game to UAB“)

Auburn (21-16, 6-9 SEC) took Game 1 of the series, 2-1, Friday night when Tigers freshman pitcher Keegan Thompson entered the game in the seventh to prevent a late Crimson Tide (24-11, 10-5 SEC) rally.

Alabama evened the series the next day when junior Justin Kamplain went 8 two out of three innings with only three hits allowed to lead the Crimson Tide to a 4-1 win.

But while the first two games of the series seemingly belonged to a pitcher, the last one did not.

Alabama took a 2-0 lead in the first inning on junior Wade Wass’ RBI groundout and an error on Auburn’s second baseman when attempting to throw to first. In the following inning, sophomore Georgie Salem’s RBI single scored sophomore Daniel Cucjen from second to build on the Crimson Tide’s lead.

(See also “Alabama baseball team hits with more power“)

But Auburn responded in the third inning, scoring all three of its runs with the bases loaded on three separate at-bats to level the score at 3-3. Alabama starting pitcher Jon Keller allowed five singles and issued two walks, but was spared further damage when Salem threw out two base runners at home plate from center field.

“The thing about Salem is he’s a rare, unique player,” Gaspard said. “He’s a tremendous athlete and he’s got a great arm, but with that, he’s very accurate. Obviously, that was two huge plays in the ballgame because we could have been down a run or two right there in that spot.”

Keller settled into the game after the rocky third, but still surrendered 10 hits and two walks with five strikeouts in six innings to help keep the game tied and set up Hughston’s walk-off hit.

“We fight, we’re competitors,” Hughston said of the team’s late-inning dramatics this season. “We keep punching until the last out.”

Alabama takes on Jackson State at home Tuesday and UAB at Regions Field Wednesday.

(See also “Baseball team makes first SEC trip to College Station“)