Arkansas-Pine Bluff made Thursday night’s series opener interesting until the last. Closer Davis Vainer made it final.
The Golden Eagles (2-9) rallied with a three-run homer in the top of the ninth inning and had the tying run on base, but Vainer entered from the bullpen for a strikeout and a one-out save to secure the 6-5 win for the University of Alabama (7-5).
“You thought it was over, and it wasn’t,” head coach Greg Goff said. “It’s always good to win those kind of games. Whenever you come out and find a way to finish the game. Glad we had Davis Vainer on the back end of that thing.
The ninth-inning rally was the second time Arkansas-Pine Bluff came back and threatened to take the game away from Alabama. The Crimson Tide got a two-run homer from Cody Henry in the second and were up 3-0 after three innings before the lead shrank to 3-2 in the fifth inning.
That rally was the end of the day for freshman lefty Garret Rukes, who pitched 4 2/3 innings. He gave up just one hit and didn’t allow a walk in the first four innings before fading in the fifth. Rukes was making his second career start. He was called on to pitch during the four-game weekend series after only pitching twice earlier this season. He lasted 63 pitches and struck out four while allowing four hits.
“I thought Garret did a good job for us,” Goff said. “He put zeroes up early. We had a chance to score, which was great. Whenver you start a weekend series, you get a chance to score first and put a three-spot up.”
Then junior righty Garrett Suchey pitched the next four innings as Alabama rebuilt its lead to 6-2. He had a strong showing before fading at the end as well. He retired the first eight batters he faced, then found trouble in the ninth inning. Arkansas-Pine Bluff got a three-run home run from Joshua Williams and put the tying run on first, forcing Goff to pull Suchey.
Vainer picked up his second save of the season with the strikeout.
First baseman Hunter Alexander went 2-3 with two RBIs for Alabama. Shortstop Chandler Avant was 2-4. There were bright spots for the offense but the lineup also went down in consecutive order in three innings.
“I think we scored in three innings tonight,” Goff said. “To me, this offense is capable of scoring in every inning. That’s what we have to get our players to understand … We’ve got to get more consistently doing that as we get ready for our league. As we move forward, we can’t just score a couple innings.”
It was the fourth straight win for Alabama, but left something to be desired for Goff. He said he spoke with the team after the game about playing 27 complete outs.
“We can’t do anything easy,” Goff said. “It’s year one! There ain’t nothing easy in year one! I’m telling you, it’s always like that. Every win we get like that is huge. Every opportunity those guys have to leave the park with a win is big … I think a lot of times whenever you face that adversity and you overcome it, I think that builds character down the road.”
Reach Ben Jones at email@example.com or 205-722-0196.