What to make of Alabama baseball after season-opening sweep of McNeese

Brett Hudson
The Tuscaloosa News

Seven home runs in Alabama baseball’s opening weekend helped the Crimson Tide sweep McNeese State in a three-game series by final scores of 10-6, 4-3 and 9-5.

Zane Denton hit a walk-off home run in the Saturday game. Owen Diodati hit two crucial home runs, a two-run shot to tie the Saturday game in the eighth inning and grand slam on Sunday to put the Cowboys away.

As Alabama did seven times this weekend, we round the bases with four thoughts from the weekend.

Alabama won close by design 

Alabama’s nonconference schedule — weekend series with McNeese, Wright State, College of Charleston and Stetson — is more difficult than any Brad Bohannon has faced entering his fourth season as UA’s coach. That was no accident.

“We need to be in tight games, we need to play from behind. Then in about the middle of the game on Friday I was thinking, ‘What in the heck was I thinking?’ ” Bohannon said. “In all seriousness, you get to the end of the weekend, we get down twice, we had to win games late and those are experiences you’re 100% going to have in league play, so you better have them before league play starts.”

All three games against the Cowboys gave UA that experience. Alabama allowed a three-run sixth inning to cut a five-run lead to two on Friday, then trailed 3-0 after six innings on Saturday and held a one-run lead after five on Sunday.

UA’s next weekend opponent, Wright State, likely won’t be intimidated by the Crimson Tide after a Monday doubleheader against Vanderbilt.

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Reeves’ absence put depth on display 

UA’s projected starter in left field, T.J. Reeves, missed the opening weekend with hamstring tightness. Bohannon said it had improved in the weeks leading up to the season and Bohannon thought Reeves would be ready in time for opening day but didn’t see the point in risking Reeves this early. He does not anticipate Reeves’ absence lasting much longer than opening weekend.

The absence allowed UA to show its vast depth of position players.

Tuscaloosa native William Hamiter took Reeves’ spot in all three games, recording an outfield assist, driving in a run and scoring one despite a hitless weekend. Hamiter in left field gave Diodati a chance to play in right field — continuing his development after converting from catcher in high school — and allowed Andrew Pinckney to come in for Diodati as a defensive replacement in all three games.

Diodati playing the field allowed two newcomers from junior college, Davis Heller and Will Patota, to get at-bats, which could’ve just as easily gone to Bryce Eblin, who started the Saturday game at shortstop.

Zane Denton starts with a bang 

Alabama third baseman Zane Denton throws to first to record an out as the Crimson Tide opened the season against McNeese Friday, Feb. 19, 2021, in Sewell-Thomas Stadium. [Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr.]

One weekend does not make a solidified starter, but it does provide a start in helping UA find a replacement for Brett Auerbach at third base. Denton made a strong case, hitting .583 with two home runs, including the winner on Saturday. He drove in five runs and didn't strike out in 12 at-bats. 

Pitchers to be seen

Bohannon said in the preseason UA will likely use seven or eight pitchers in extended outings to better sense what it has in its pitching staff. The first three games of the season granted that opportunity to its three starters (Connor Prielipp, Antoine Jean and Dylan Smith) plus three relievers getting three-inning bullpen stints: Tyler Ras on Friday, Jacob McNairy on Saturday and freshman Grayson Hitt on Sunday.

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UA could hit that seven- to eight-pitcher quota after its upcoming midweek games. Bohannon said William Freeman and Connor Shamblin, a weekend starter last season, will start UA’s games at Jacksonville State on Tuesday and home against UT Martin on Wednesday. The exact order remains to be determined, largely by pitching coach Jason Jackson.

UA could push that number to nine if it wanted to with Landon Green, who worked two innings in 22 pitches Saturday, striking out four.

Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or bhudson@tuscaloosanews.com or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson