The race is on for Alabama baseball’s team lead in home runs.
Freshman Owen Diodati took the early lead with three home runs in opening weekend, and catcher Sam Praytor joined the race with three a week later in the series against UNLV. The events of Tuesday’s game make the race even more crowded.
In UA’s 12-2 win over South Alabama, Tyler Gentry’s two home runs pushed his season total to four, tied with Diodati and one behind Praytor, who pushed his total to five with a three-run homer against the Jaguars (7-7). Drew Williamson also hit his first home run of the season against the Jaguars (7-7); it was the first time the Crimson Tide hit four home runs in a game since April 9 of last year, when it hit nine against Samford.
“The game today was just kind of our day,” UA coach Brad Bohannon said. “A lot of hard contact, multiple home runs and the pitching was lights out.”
Gentry’s home runs were especially crucial. His two-run shot in the bottom of the first tied the game, and the three-run blast in the fifth put the Tide (13-0) ahead by five.
Gentry made South Alabama starting pitcher Matt Boswell (1-2) pay for a mistake pitch, a high slider, on the first home run, but hit what he thought was a pretty good changeup for the second home run. He said he was seeing Boswell’s changeup well and was able to stay back on it, as has been the case for most of the lineup: UA has generated 20 extra-base hits in its last five games.
“We know we can hit for power and that’s a big weapon of ours, so we push each other to try to get better every day,” Gentry said. “It’s a little bit of a friendly competition, to see who can hit the most home runs.”
Gentry ended the game with a career high six RBI, when adding in his RBI single in the eighth. His previous best was four on multiple occasions, most recently the Feb. 23 game against UNLV.
Gentry’s three-run homer in the fifth came in support of reliever Casey Cobb, who improved to 2-0 after throwing three scoreless innings with one hit allowed and four strikeouts. Cobb was the first pitcher to relieve starter Garret Rukes, making his first start of the season. Rukes last two innings, allowing two hits and two walks and two runs, but both unearned. The runs came when a bases-loaded fly ball to center was dropped, allowing two runs to score but preventing the third run by getting the batter out at second before the final runner could score.
All told, Rukes threw 32 pitches, which was fewer than Bohannon had in mind.
“Not that short,” Bohannon said. “(Rukes) is a really good pitcher, but I didn’t think he was sharp. He’s a command guy, he’s not a stuff guy, and I just didn’t think he was sharp. We went into the game expecting to pitch five or six guys, so I probably thought going into it we’d let him go three or four, but he wasn’t as sharp as usual and we wanted to get these other guys some work.
“He pitched plenty good enough: we catch a fly ball and he’s got two scoreless.”
After Cobb, Tyler Ras threw two perfect innings, Landon Green threw a perfect inning and Chase Lee threw a scoreless inning.
Bohannon said the pitching plans remain up in the air for the Wednesday game against North Alabama (3-9), a game that is in danger of being postponed due to weather. If UA does not play the Lions on Wednesday, its next game will be the beginning of a three-game series against Lipscomb at 6 p.m. Friday.
Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson