Alabama pitcher Davis Vainer had the ball in his hands and the game on the line in the eighth inning on Saturday. New Mexico State trailed 4-1 but had the bases loaded and no outs after three straight singles.
“They were hitting some good pitches,” Vainer said. “I wasn’t afraid to throw more strikes.”
He threw another strike, and this one found its way to second baseman Chandler Avant. He flipped the ball to shortstop to start a 6-4-3 double play as a run scored. Vainer got a strikeout on the next at-bat to end the inning. That helped Alabama (13-3) seal a 5-2 win and a series win over New Mexico State (9-8).
“I don’t think it’s easy for a young pitcher, even if you’re making good pitches and you give up some hits and they get base runners, a lot of pitchers will start nibbling and trying to be too fine and pitching away from contact,” coach Brad Bohannon said.” I thought Davis’ poise was outstanding and he continued to attack the strike zone. We can tell them ‘Eventually they’re going to hit a ball to us if you make good pitches’ and that’s exactly what happened.'”
Vainer pitched four innings of relief and allowed only that one run. Starter Sam Gardner went four innings and also gave up one run.
That effort combined to keep Alabama in control as the offense took time to get started. The first nine batters were retired, and Alabama didn’t have a hit until Avant doubled in the fifth inning. He went 3-for-4 with two RBIs and three doubles, the first Alabama player with three doubles in a game since February 28, 2015.
“I really can’t control where the ball goes, I just try to put good at bats together, hit a hittable pitch and put a good move on it,” Avant said. “I don’t think I got things started. I think things got started before the game because we were all pumped up and ready to go.”
Avant scored to tie the game in the bottom of the fifth. Alabama didn’t take the lead until the bottom of the seventh.
Junior Keith Holcombe singled with one out. He came around to score from first on Avant’s second double. Holcombe collided with New Mexico State catcher Braden Williams at the same time as the ball arrived. The linebacker jarred the ball loose and was safe with the go-ahead run.
“The third baseman had the ball and was standing on third base, but if you’re going to send somebody home, I liked our odds on that one,” coach Bohannon said. “I’m glad I wasn’t the catcher. That’s for sure.”
Alabama got two more runs in that rally, including another where catcher Matt Malkin slid around a tag at home. New Mexico State had its chance in the eighth but couldn’t retake the lead.
The Crimson Tide came back to take the series after dropping the opener on Friday. Alabama lost 12 series in a row when losing the opener, dating back to the 2016 season.
“Especially once we get into league play, there’s so many weekends when you get through the first two games and it’s 1-1,” Bohannon said. “One barometer we talked about is winning a series. I’d like to win the first two games of the series but was glad even though we lost the first one we were able to come back and find the next two.”
Reach Ben Jones at email@example.com or 205-722-0196.