Connor Shamblin’s first pitch of 2020 — after posting a 6.26 ERA last year — hit Northeastern’s leadoff man. The next one was hit for a single through the right side.
Last year, Shamblin’s outing may have crumbled immediately, after two pitches. On Saturday, Shamblin completed that first inning and did so in scoreless fashion, in all of six pitches.
Shamblin’s scoreless five innings with more strikeouts (five) than baserunners allowed (four) was just the start the sophomore needed to the season. When combined with five runs of support in the first two innings, it was enough to push Alabama past Northeastern, 8-0.
“Connor had a great outing, got us off to a great start,” UA coach Brad Bohannon said. “Really proud of the way he managed the first inning, really settled in did a great job of throwing all of his pitches for a strike.”
After putting two runners on with the first two pitches, Shamblin forced a ground ball that second baseman Jim Jarvis and shortstop Kolby Robinson turned into a double play. That allowed Shamblin to get into rhythm and showcase the improvement he believes he’s made from 2019.
“It’s more of the mental side. It’s knowing that my stuff is good enough to be them, and it’s just trusting it,” Shamblin said. “A little anxious to start the game but I settled down, trusting Jim (Jarvis), trusting Kolby (Robinson), they turned a good double play for me in the first that helped me get into rhythm.”
Robinson was involved in another double play, in the third inning, when he grabbed a ball that deflected from Shamblin’s glove, touched the base and threw out the runner at first.
“I think it just goes back to how much we practice in the fall and offseason,” Robinson said. “You can ask anybody on the team, we pound infield defense all the time.”
After the first two batters, Shamblin (1-0) retired eight of the next 10 batters he faced and did so efficiently: he needed 26 pitches to get through three innings and 57 to finish his five innings.
“Not only the result was good, I thought Connor’s body language was really good,” Bohannon said. “He didn’t start nibbling and trying to avoid the bat. When you pitch in the SEC, you’re going to pitch with people on base a lot.
“We’ve thrown back-to-back shutouts, but we’re not asking our pitchers to throw shutouts. We have a really good offensive team, we’re pretty athletic defensively, just slow the other team down and manage innings. You can give them one in the second, two in the fourth and one in the seventh and we’re gonna win a lot of baseball games. Really glad we’re putting up zeroes, but really, really pleased with Connor’s presence. It’s a sign of maturity.”
Three first-inning runs made it easier for Shamblin to settle in. Right fielder Tyler Gentry knocked two RBI singles in the first two innings off of Northeastern starter Sam Jacobsak (0-1), separated by a two-run double from third baseman Zane Denton in the first inning. Gentry ultimately had three hits, as did designated hitter Sam Praytor. Praytor drove in a run with singles in the second and the eighth.
“They’re just really, really good players,” Bohannon said of Gentry and Praytor. “Those guys can hit.”
Freshman Owen Diodati, in left field on Saturday after being the designated hitter on Friday, continued his hot start. He followed a two-home run debut with a two-run double in the seventh.
Alabama (2-0) finishes the series against Northeastern (1-0) with a 1 p.m. Sunday game. Freshman left-hander Antoine Jean will start for Alabama against right-handed freshman Sebastian Keane. Both were drafted in the 2019 MLB Draft, Keane in the 11th round by the Boston Red Sox and Jean in the 17th round by the Minnesota Twins.