Saturday, March 26th, a date Alabama baseball fans may remember as the potential early-season dagger to all hopes of a return trip to the NCAA Baseball Tournament and potentially even Hoover.
That date carries weight around the program of Alabama baseball, as it was the second-straight day the Crimson Tide collapsed in the 9th inning of a road series at defending national champion Mississippi State’s home ballpark of Dudy Noble Field. The Tide blew a three-run lead, just after blowing a two-run lead the night before.
To make matters worse, Alabama had also blown a small lead over in-state rival UAB in Birmingham the Wednesday before the trip to Starkville.
At the time, Alabama baseball sat at 13-11 overall on the season, with an alarming 1-4 record in SEC play. To make matters worse, a home midweek against a talented South Alabama team, followed by a pesky Aggies crew and back-to-back road series at two Top 10 programs loomed large.
Fifth-year head coach Brad Bohannon stood on the steps of the visiting dugout on that early spring day in Starkville, as he spoke to a small gathering of media members in dismay.
To outsiders, it was easy to see the look on many players in the Crimson Tide dugout in Starkville and see just how substantial a blow Mississippi State delivered Alabama.
The miscues and misfortunes of Alabama’s rough week were not sugar-coated or hidden by Bohannon, by any means. However, being the eternal optimist and warm-spirited soul that Bohannon is, he found a way to see a positive light at the end of the tunnel on that disastrous day in Starkville.
To paraphrase, Bohannon told reporters the Crimson Tide had 80% of its conference season left and plenty of time to right the ship.
Of course, any coach will tell you in a losing press conference that they plan to go back to the fundamentals, fix mistakes and get better. However, it’s much easier said than done…
Alabama was right on the cusp of series victories in both of its opening SEC weekends against Florida and Mississippi State, but just could not finish the job.
Now, there were a number of factors that led to Alabama falling short, but two of the primary ones happened to be the absence of right-fielder William Hamiter (broken foot) and second-basemen Bryce Eblin (hurt shoulder).
With the absence of Hamiter and Eblin, the Tide struggled to plate enough runs to hold onto leads in SEC play and led the nation in games decided by one run for several weeks.
All of that seemed to change thanks to a pair of massive wins on Sunday, March 27th and Tuesday, March 29th.
That Sunday, Alabama found itself down early in Starkville, before battling back to take yet another mid-game lead on Mississippi State. A mammoth home-run by Drew Williamson helped lift the Tide to the Game 3 victory, while the contributions of Eblin came up big with a run-scoring double mid-game as well.
Alabama would hold on to defeat the Bulldogs thanks to a stellar relief effort by Antoine Jean in the Sunday game, with no Sunday meltdown for Game 3.
After an entire week on the road, it was time to come home…
The Crimson Tide welcomed Mobile’s South Alabama to Sewell-Thomas Stadium the following Tuesday, where the in-state foes duked it out for several hours.
After a back-and-forth battle in front of a packed-out crowd, the Crimson Tide found themselves with the bases loaded in the Bottom of the 9th, down to their final out.
Alabama had the do-it-all Jim Jarvis running at third-base after a leadoff double to start the inning, while the Jaguars loaded up the bases on an intentional walk to create a force play.
It was then that a wild pitch sent Jarvis dashing for home, where he would spark a two-week Crimson Tide run of pure havoc.
The Tide pulled off its first midweek win in nearly a month by defeating South Alabama, which took a massive monkey off its back. Then, Alabama would follow it up with an SEC series win over a pesky Texas A&M squad over the weekend.
Alabama handled business against in-state Samford in the following midweek, before traveling to then No. 7 Ole Miss for a three-game set at Swayze Field.
Going in, many may have expected a game, possibly two if lucky…
Then, Alabama did the unthinkable. The Crimson Tide left Oxford with a three-game series sweep of the Ole Miss Rebels, the first since 2014 and the first in Oxford since 1997.
Alabama would come back to Tuscaloosa ranked No. 24 in the D1 Baseball Top 25 poll, the first of any ranking in over two seasons for Bohannon’s bunch.
The Tide handled a solid Belmont squad in the midweek before heading to Knoxville to take on Tony Vitello and the mighty Tennessee Volunteers.
Now, going into this series, let me give you some perspective on the Vols…
Tennessee entered Friday at 31-2 overall, with a 12-0 record in conference play and a home winning-streak dating back to May of last season.
Alabama traveled up to Knoxville, in front of a sold-out weekend crowd in orange and took game 1 from the Volunteers. The Tide answered every call on Friday night, plating runs just about every time the Volunteers threatened.
Now, having been in right-field, the press box or somewhere around ‘The Joe’ for Alabama baseball practices over the last couple months, it was very clear to me that the Tide team I was watching stun Tennessee looked a whole lot different than the team I saw in Starkville.
Energy in the dugout was like I had never seen before, while the bullpen, which was uniquely located in the grasp of wandering spectators and media members alike, held its own energy throughout the night.
For every big hit, strikeout or groundout the Tide got, members of the team would slap the padding on the fences, high-five and encourage their fellow teammates.
An unidentified member of the Crimson Tide bullpen told me “the team is playing fearless right now”, while helping ready the bullpen for warmups mid-game Friday night.
Of course, it was later that night that Alabama would go on to record arguably its biggest win of the Bohannon era up in Knoxville.
Traveling back to my hotel in East Knoxville on Friday night, I began to ponder just how special this Alabama baseball team could end up being…
I knew the ramifications of the victory over Tennessee and how much it meant to not just the team, but the fanbase and parent community as well.
Having attended over two-dozen Crimson Tide baseball games this season, it certainly felt like a night to celebrate indeed…
I sat outside a patio of a Tex Mex restaurant adjacent to my hotel that Friday night, thinking about all the people around the Alabama baseball program I had spoken to at the ballpark and just how far this team has come in a few short weeks. Truly marveling, I tell you…
From off-the-record conversations with members of the Crimson Tide bullpen, to the Alabama team bus driver, parents and diehard fans while on my trip in Knoxville… I can confidently say that this team is more bought-in than it’s ever been in my time watching them this season.
From that dreadful March day in Starkville, Mississippi to now, it’s hard to even call Alabama the same baseball team.
Every member of the roster contributed in some way during the Ole Miss and Tennessee series, which makes the team’s success just that much more special.
I know Tennessee was able to explode after Alabama cut the Volunteer lead to 3-2 in the 5th on Saturday night, but the leaps made by the program should be taken in full context…
Tennessee is the best team in college baseball right now and it isn’t particularly close.
If you thought Arkansas was special during the regular season last year, Tennessee is about twice as impressive right now…
Being able to get a game up in Knoxville, a place the Volunteers had not lost in nearly a year, is taking strides forward for a team that was left for dead just three weekends ago…
Now, the Tide returns to Tuscaloosa for a crucial four-game home stand against UAB and No. 14 Georgia looking to build off all the good it’s done in the past three weeks.
The Blazers got the best of the Tide in Birmingham last month, while the Bulldogs left a bad taste in the mouth of Alabama fans on the gridiron and the basketball court this winter.
As mentioned heading into the Texas A&M home stand, the time is now to hop on the Alabama baseball train.
For Alabama was just in the Top 25 and has suddenly emerged into the conversation of potentially hosting a regional.
In order for Alabama to move up in the hosting conversation, the Tide need you at ‘The Joe’ this weekend helping to propel them over Georgia.
With a series win over Georgia and strong play in the coming weeks, Alabama can legitimately host a regional for the first time ever at the newly renovated Sewell-Thomas Stadium.
This would be Alabama’s first regional hosting appearance in Tuscaloosa since 2006… think about that and read it just one more time… this would be Alabama’s first regional hosting appearance in Tuscaloosa since 2006…
That’s before Nick Saban even stepped foot on the campus of Alabama in crimson and white.
Before Mark Ingram rushed his way to a Heisman Trophy.
Pre-dating Alabama softball’s 2012 national title run.
Just think about it for a second…
This team has the ingredients to earn a regional berth over the next coming weeks.
As close as Alabama is to jumping in that conversation, it can just as easily fall out of tournament discussion altogether with a dreadful next few weeks.
With the support of the fans in a packed-out Sewell-Thomas Stadium, what was once a far-fetched dream could now become reality, however…
And from my experiences traveling the Southern landscape of college baseball this season, I can say that having a home-field advantage is absolutely crucial.
I sat in the dugout wells of Georgia Tech’s Russ-Chandler Stadium as the Yellow Jackets powered past rival Georgia in front of a sold-out crowd in Atlanta.
I saw Mississippi State feed off the energy of Dudy Noble Field to walk-off Alabama twice and Auburn this past Thursday. (Yes, I was crazy enough to go to Starkville for that Auburn series game before heading to Knoxville… Trust me, the crowd played a huge factor late in the game…)
Then, I headed up to Knoxville and saw the energy the Tennessee fans gave their team down 1-0 in the series this weekend.
Fans make an instant-impact in college baseball, arguably even more so than in the MLB.
At the end of the day, the men suiting up on the diamond are repping the university they attend… where they go to classes just like every other student.
They too, are human… and have emotions… which can quickly rise due to fan support..
Alabama baseball has one of the most beautiful parks in college baseball, easy-access to parking and affordable tickets.
As the spring semester at the University of Alabama winds down, it’s time you come out to Sewell-Thomas Stadium and propel the Crimson Tide into the hosting conversation.
This team has fought its ass off for an entire month to get to this point and it’s time the fans work their asses off for the final month of conference play to stamp the invitation on an NCAA Regional host for Alabama.
The Crimson Tide resurrected its 2022 season by resurrection weekend… now it’s time to remove all doubts… this team means business…