The big hit had eluded Alabama for the first seven innings against Kentucky. Any hit at all had eluded the Crimson Tide for the first six innings against Kentucky starter Zach Haake.
The eighth inning would have to be the moment. Alabama loaded the bases with three walks for first baseman Hunter Alexander with two outs. Alexander turned Haake’s 115th pitch of the afternoon into a grand slam at Sewell-Thomas Stadium to give the Crimson Tide (18-10, 3-5 SEC) a 4-2 win over the Wildcats (18-9, 2-6 SEC).
“I was really just trying to get a hit,” Alexander said. “He had thrown me a bunch of sliders in my at-bat before that. I think it was five in a row or something like that. I was sitting on it. I wasn’t swinging on a fastball. He threw the fastball first pitch and I knew he wasn’t going to throw it again. I just tried to put a swing on it.”
Alabama managed just two hits all day, and its only hit during the eighth inning came from Alexander’s home run. But it was enough.
UA was still in the game thanks to a start from Jake Walters that kept pace with Haake. The senior righty went 7 1/3 innings and took a shutout into the seventh. He allowed seven hits and one walk while striking out seven. Before he gave up a run in the seventh, he had gone 12 2/3 innings across three starts without giving up an earned run.
“Usually in the SEC you’re going to go against great arms,” Walters said. “I’m just trying to match them and keep us in contention, trust our guys. It happened, we hit a grand slam. That’s all I could hope for.”
Haake had only thrown 12 inning all season and was making just his second start. Alabama struggled to find a hit, but he walked one batter in each of the first five innings. Haake gave up nine walks on the afternoon, including three in the fatal eighth inning.
“He was effectively wild,” coach Brad Bohannon said. “He was up to 95 with a really good slider. He was a real challenge for our hitters. The kids did a great job of keeping their poise and scratching and clawing.”
Kentucky had another chance in the top of the ninth. The Wildcats had the bases loaded with one out while trailing 4-1. Sophomore righty Deacon Medders came on to close it out after pitching the final two innings on Friday. He gave a walk to score one run, but got a strikeout and a fly ball to center to finish the game.
The victory clinched Alabama’s first SEC series win.
“Hopefully it gives everybody a lot of confidence,” Bohannon said. “That is a really good club. It’s a physical, older group with a lot of power and power stuff on the mound. I’m really impressed with Kentucky’s team and hopefully it gives our guys confidence. You can tell them how much you believe in them but until they go out there and do it individually and as a team, it really doesn’t mean as much. I also told them ‘Hey, we’ve won two close games against a really good team. That doesn’t make our season.’
“But I’m not going to downplay it. It’s been a big two days for this group. Hopefully we can build off it.”
Reach Ben Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0196.