Alabama sweeps weekend series against Valparaiso

Alabama sweeps weekend series against Valparaiso

Jett Manning finished 3-for-3 with three RBIs in Alabama's 16-2 win over Valparaiso.

The beginning of Brad Bohannon’s head coaching career went about as well as it could have. In a series against Valparaiso, Bohannon led the Crimson Tide to its first sweep since May 5-7, 2017, when it swept Auburn.

“Its cool,” Bohannon said. “It’s really neat to start your career with a sweep. The thing about the sport is, we play 56 games, so like I keep telling the kids, ‘it’s a marathon not a sprint.’”

The Crimson Tide’s offense was on full display against Valparaiso. It outscored the Crusaders 34-13 in the opening series, including winning 16-2 on opening day. 

Shortstop Jett Manning was the hero in Alabama’s first game. Manning went 3-for-3 and scored two runs in his first game for the Crimson Tide. He also knocked in three runs, two of which came off a lined shot that landed in the right-field student section. 

“Definitely wasn’t expecting it to go that way, but I’ll definitely take that and remember it forever,” Manning said.

Alabama dominated the middle three innings, scoring 14 of its 16 runs during that time. First baseman Hunter Alexander and John Trousdale also knocked in three runs, while freshman catcher Sam Praytor doubled in Alabama’s first two runs of the game. 

Right-handed pitcher Sam Finnerty, in his first start since losing to Ole Miss on April 9, 2017, was dominant. He allowed just one run over five innings. The one run came off a solo home run hit by Valparaiso left fielder Blake Bilinger. 

“I was just trying to be me and not do too much,” Finnerty said. "Just pound the strike zone and give our team a chance to win."

Outfielder Joe Breuax was Alabama’s hero in game two. It would appear that he was about to go hitless in his first two games for the Crimson Tide, but he got a chance in the ninth inning, with two outs. 

Valparaiso pitcher Luke VanLanen hung a slider, that he pulled through the right side of the infield, scoring pinch runner Connor Stutts from second. 

Alabama struggled with runners on base all day. It was hitting just .167 [3-for-18] with runners on base coming in to the ninth, finishing 5-of-22. Breaux’s hit was the only time Alabama got a hit with runners in scoring position, finishing 1-for-13.

“I think it’s early in the season and guys are excited,” Alabama coach Brad Bohannon said. “They’ve been playing baseball a long time, so when you take balls and swing at strikes, you’re going to increase your chances at being successful. I think for a game and a half we’ve swung at a lot of pitches out of the strike zone.”

Left-handed pitcher Dylan Duarte took the win, while Kyle Cameron pitched for the first time since Feb. 24, 2017. Cameron missed most of last year due to an illness. 

“It felt awesome,” Cameron said. “It’s been almost a year since I’ve actually competed in a game. Just getting back 100 percent healthy, and my first outing of the year felt good.”

Cameron was the bridge from starter Jake Walters to Duarte. He threw two and two-thirds innings, scattering four hits.

Alabama came out blazing hot in the final game of the series. It jumped ahead by four runs after the first inning, eventually winning 12-6. 

Outfielder Keith Holcombe was tremendous in his first start since March 18. He went 4-for-4 with a home run and a triple, driving in three runs. He was a double shy of the cycle. 

“I was just excited to be there,” Holcombe said. “I’m glad coach gave me the opportunity. Like y'all have heard me in football, I was out there just to my job, and that’s what I did. As everybody saw, I was just relaxed and hopefully I can keep that going the rest of the season.”

Third baseman Cobie Vance was the only starter to finish without a hit in game three, but he made it on base four times, walking three times and getting hit by a pitch.

Alabama took 23 walks and was hit 10 times during the weekend.

Davis Vainer was lights out during his first outing of the season. He went three and two-thirds innings allowing just two hits, while striking out four. 

“I was just keeping the ball low,” Vainer said. “The defense has made unreal plays all weekend, so I have a lot confidence in them. Just throw strikes and let them hit it.” 

Vainer got the win, while freshman left-handed pitcher Brock Guffey got the save. 

Right-handed pitcher Sam Gardner started the series finale. He went just three and two-thirds innings, and was hammered in the second inning, allowing five runs in the frame.

“I thought Sam pitched a lot better than his stat line,” Bohannon said. “He was behind in the count a little more than we would like, and a little more up in the count a little more than we would like, but I think he’s a hard hit ball right at somebody away from getting out of a couple of those jams.”

Alabama takes on Middle Tennessee on Tuesday Feb. 20. First pitch will be at 3 p.m.

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