MONTGOMERY – Auburn took an early lead over the University of Alabama and held on to win the Capital City Classic 4-3 on Tuesday night at Riverwalk Stadium.
Alabama (12-13) spent most of the night playing catch-up after Auburn (21-6) took a 3-0 lead in the top of the third. The Tigers led off with a single and a walk, and scored the first run on a throwing error by Connor Short. Auburn eventually had the bases loaded with one out. Alabama starter Garret Rukes nearly got out of the inning without any additional damage, striking out the next batter. But a bloop single with two outs scored two more runs, putting Auburn in the driver’s seat before a sellout crowd of 7,605.
“That’s what we do all the time,” Alabama head coach Greg Goff said. “That’s no fun. It’d be nice to get out in front in one. That’s just where we are. That’s just the way it is.”
The Crimson Tide scratched together a run in the third, fourth and fifth innings to tie the game while Sam Finnerty came in to relieve Rukes. But after tying the game 3-3 in the fifth, Auburn came back to retake the lead in the top of the sixth.
Daniel Robert led off the sixth with a walk, stole second, advanced to third on a fly ball to right, and scored on an infield single. Finnerty took the loss for Alabama.
Neither offense packed much punch. Auburn’s two scoring rallies came with just two hits to the outfield. The Tigers didn’t have an extra-base hit all night. Alabama got only one, a double from Chandler Taylor that banged off the right field wall in the bottom of the sixth. That hit was wiped away as Taylor was narrowly thrown out at third trying to stretch it into a double.
“Those are things that should not happen,” Goff said. “We should never make the third (of the inning) out at third. That should have never crossed his mind. I’ll take responsibility for that. I’m the head coach. Those are little things that I will make sure tomorrow in practice, we’ll cover.”
Alabama’s best chance to take control came in the bottom of the eighth. The Crimson Tide drew a pair of walks with two outs, bringing Hunter Alexander to the plate. Alexander hit a hard ground ball up the middle, but it was stopped by second baseman Jay Estes. He dove to stop the ball from getting through, which would have scored the tying run. Estes and Alexander knew each other while playing in junior college last season.
“We were just a little short,” Goff said. “…I think we just need to play with a little more heart, a little more grit, a little more dirtiness and you get those type of hits. That’s where I think we are as a staff. That’s where we are as a team. They need to bring a little more to the table every day, and we’re not getting everything we can get from them.”
Goff turned to Friday starter Jake Walters to pitch the top of the ninth. He worked through the inning in 18 pitches to keep Auburn from extending the lead. But Alabama went down in order in the final frame.
Rukes gave up three earned runs in three innings with five strikeouts. Finnerty pitched 2 1/3 innings and gave up one run, while Garrett Suchey pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings.
The Tigers have won eight of the nine meetings between the teams in the Capital City Classic, including three in a row.
Reach Ben Jones at email@example.com or 205-722-0196.