Starting pitcher Sam Finnerty was in no mood for jokes when coach Brad Bohannon came to him before the start of the ninth inning in the first game of Alabama’s doubleheader against South Carolina on Friday.
The head coach told his starter he was pulling him rather than letting him pitch the ninth inning.
“I kind of gave him a little look,” Finnerty said. “I didn’t think it was too funny.”
“That little look was not a smile,” Bohannon said. “I thought it was funny. If you can’t joke when you’re up 9-0, when can you joke?”
Finnerty got up and quickly cut down South Carolina’s final three batters to clinch the 9-0 win and a 79-pitch shutout. That set the stage for a 4-1 Alabama (22-10, 4-7 SEC) win in the second game of the day to sweep the doubleheader against the Gamecocks (18-13, 2-9 SEC). It clinched the Crimson Tide’s first SEC series win in nearly a full year and moved Alabama two games ahead of South Carolina in the conference standings.
Finnerty’s 79 pitches included 59 strikes as he worked Alabama’s first complete game this season and the first of his career. Only one Gamecock batter even worked the count to three balls against Finnerty. He retired 16 consecutive batters at one point.
“It’s hard to pitch a complete game in the SEC with that pitch count,” Bohannon said. “That’s one of Finn’s biggest strengths, he just attacks the hitters and doesn’t try to avoid the bat. He did a great job of getting a lot of early action and soft contact. That’s how you have a 79-pitch complete game.”
Alabama may not have been planning on a complete game, but Finnerty knew how he could match up against the Gamecocks. South Carolina’s offense entered Friday leading the SEC with 50 homers but last with a .251 average, including .201 in conference play.
“Me and (pitching coach Jason Jackson) had been talking all week about it,” Finnerty said. “Pretty much the plan was to go in and execute pitches, keep the ball down because they like to try and lift the ball up. We kept the ball down all day and it was a good day.”
Junior righty Brock Love had success in the second game of the day as well, throwing six-plus innings before giving up a solo home run in the seventh. Love allowed three hits and two walks while striking out eight.
When he left, closer Jeremy Randolph came on to secure a three-inning save. Randolph allowed two walks and hit one batter but didn’t allow a hit. Alabama’s three pitchers allowed one run over 18 innings and were able to save the rest of the bullpen for Saturday’s series finale.
“You have to get 27 innings of pitching in 36 hours,” Bohannon said. “We have some length to our staff and pitch a lot of people, but that’s pretty unheard of, to sweep a doubleheader and use three guys.”
The offense gave Alabama an early cushion in both games. UA scored three runs in the bottom of the first of the afternoon game, then loaded the bases with two walks and a hit batter in the second. Infielder Morgan McCullough singled home one run and right fielder Tyler Gentry recorded Alabama’s first grand slam of the season to push the lead to 8-0.
Alabama added one more run in the third and stalled from there. It was enough; Alabama gave up no free bases with no errors, no wild pitches and no passed balls.
“It’s really easy to come to the park with a good mindset when Finn is on the mound,” McCullough said. He throws a lot of strikes so there’s a good tempo to the game. I think that kind of set the tone for Brock and it just carried throughout the whole day.”
McCullough and Gentry, batting third and fourth for Alabama, powered the offense through the day. McCullough was 5-9 with four runs and two RBIs. Gentry was 4-7 with three runs and four RBIs. Alabama strung together three runs on five hits — all singles — in the fourth inning of the evening game to take a 3-0 lead.
South Carolina didn’t respond until the solo homer that chased Love from the mound, but that was all.
Alabama entered the day with two SEC wins on the season and doubled that total by the end of the day.
“A really, really good day for us all the way around,” Bohannon said. “It starts on the mound. Sam and Brock were just outstanding and Jeremy did a great job in relief. Played really good defense like we have pretty much all year and really did a much better job offensively at the plate, strung some really good at-bats together. Just a really, really good day all the way around for us.”
Reach Ben Jones at email@example.com or 205-722-0196.