Freshman catcher Sam Praytor wouldn’t have been the most likely candidate to deliver a big hit for Alabama baseball in February or March. But as the calendar turned from month to month, Praytor turned a corner.
Praytor delivered a walk-off double, driving in two runs with two outs in the bottom of the ninth as Alabama (25-25) beat Jacksonville State (24-21) 9-8 on Tuesday night at Sewell-Thomas Stadium.
“I’m really proud of Sam,” coach Brad Bohannon said. “Sam has grown so much. It just started with the off the field stuff. He matured a lot in the first semester, and we were hard on him. This is a huge adjustment. … This league is hard, especially for a young player. But the talented young players that have some competitiveness to them, you start to see them start looking like sophomores.”
Praytor’s average sat at .200 in mid-March, then rose to .250 by the middle of April. After going 3-for-5 on Tuesday, he’s now batting .290.
Alabama’s game-winning rally started when leadoff hitter Cobie Vance singled with one out. Outfielder Joe Breaux drew a walk, and senior Chandler Avant struck out to bring Praytor to the plate. He sent the third pitch down the left field line to score both runners as Breaux avoided a tag at the plate.
“I was really just looking for something to put in play, hoping to put the barrel on the ball and he threw a fastball,” Praytor said. “I was able to do that and find a hole.”
Alabama hung five runs on Jacksonville State in the top of the first inning, propelled by a double from sophomore John Trousdale that drove in three runs. Jacksonville State responded with four runs in the top of the second inning. The first four batters all reached base for the Gamecocks, capped by a two-run home run.
The Crimson Tide pitching staff struggled for most of the night. Starter Mason Duke gave up three earned runs in three innings, and Dylan Duarte gave up two runs in the fourth inning after he came on in relief. Freshman lefty Brock Guffey also gave up two earned runs in 1 2/3 innings.
It took sophomore Davis Vainer and junior Sam Gardner to settle things down in the late innings. They allowed just one hit in the last three innings as Alabama tried to retake the lead.
“We made a ton of mistakes,” Bohannon said. “Ugly, ugly game. A ton of really poor fundamental baseball. Looked like a really poorly-coached team tonight. But credit our kids for having the resolve to finish strong. You can play good and lose, and we proved tonight you can play really, really poorly and win. Just really proud of our kids for the resolve they showed at the end to pull it out.”
The win capped Alabama’s nonconference record at 19-7 and its midweek record at 10-4 this season. It was also Alabama’s final game against an in-state opponent in the regular season; the Crimson Tide finished 7-7 against teams from the state of Alabama.
Reach Ben Jones at email@example.com or 205-722-0196.