Eicholtz Shines, Advances Alabama Baseball in SEC Baseball Tournament with 5-2 Win over Kentucky
Ninth-seeded Alabama baseball advanced to the second round of the 2016 SEC Baseball Tournament with a 5-2 win over No. 8 seed Kentucky on Tuesday at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium. The victory moves the Crimson Tide’s overall record to 32-24 and guarantees UA at least two more games in the conference’s postseason tournament.
“I’m really proud of our team today,” said Alabama head coach Mitch Gaspard. “Obviously, it was a real pressure-packed game with a lot on the line. When you have a game like that, it’s really helpful to get a great start on the mound. I thought Nick (Eicholtz) did a great job. He was able to hand it to the bullpen with (Matt) Foster and (Thomas) Burrows, who I thought also pitched well. It was nice to get an early lead, and take advantage of some Kentucky mistakes.”
Alabama starter Nick Eicholtz (4-3) picked up his fourth win of the season and his second over the Wildcats in 2016, throwing 6.2 innings and allowing two runs on three hits with a pair of walks and three strikeouts. Eicholtz began the game hot, retiring the first nine hitters he faced, before giving up a solo home run to break the streak. The junior limited UK in the middle innings, but ran into trouble in the bottom of the seventh. Reliever Matt Foster followed the Tide starter, and came in to record a groundout to first to end any threat.
Foster went on to record the first two outs of the eighth before a fielding error allowed one to reach and ended his night. Alabama turned the ball over to its closer, Thomas Burrows, who recorded the final out of the eighth and then sat the Wildcats down in order in the ninth to record his career-high 12th save of the season.
The Crimson Tide offense was highlighted by Will Haynie and Hunter Webb, who each finished 3-for-5 with two RBI apiece on the day. Haynie notched his team-high 10th home run and added a pair of runs scored to his stat line, as well.
The Crimson Tide struck first in the game, bringing across three runs in the top of the second. Haynie singled and was followed by a base hit from Cody Henry to give UA a pair of baserunners for Chance Vincent. The senior grounded up the middle but a fielding error allowed all three runners to remain on base, loading them for Daniel Cucjen, who would draw a walk to score the game’s first run. Webb would follow up with a single to center, scoring a pair and giving Alabama a 3-0 lead.
Eicholtz cruised through the first three frames, before Kentucky got on the board with a solo home run to start off the bottom of the fourth and make it a 3-1 contest. The two teams then went scoreless until the bottom of the seventh, when a one-out walk and a stolen base put one Wildcat in scoring position. A double one out later brought home the runner to make it a 3-2 contest heading into the final stretch. Kentucky reached one in the bottom of the eighth, but the change to Burrows resulted in the final out – a strikeout swinging – to get Alabama out of any danger.
The Tide added to its lead in the ninth thanks to Haynie’s two-run home run. Chandler Taylor drew a two-out walk to put one on for the Alabama catcher, and Haynie brought them both home with a roundtripper to left to push the lead to 5-2. Burrows worked a perfect 1-2-3 ninth to secure the save and advance the Crimson Tide to the double-elimination portion of the tournament.
Alabama will next face off with SEC regular-season champion Mississippi State on Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. CT. The Crimson Tide will look to junior right-hander Geoffrey Bramblett for the start, while the Bulldogs call on righty Zach Houston, also a junior. The winner of the contest will advance to the second game of the night session on Thursday, while the loser will play in the second game of the morning session.