Troy head coach Bobby Pierce said before the Tallahassee NCAA Regional that this would be a special weekend for him.
In addition to the family reunion on deck for the Pierce's this weekend (Bobby's son Logan is a third team All-American for the Trojans and one of his other son's families lives in the Tallahassee area), Pierce has a connection to three of the four schools involved in the Regional.
In the 80's, after completing a couple years at junior college Pierce played on a summer team at Florida State- alongside then player-coach Mike Martin- in anticipation of signing with the Seminoles for the Fall. But a last minute call from Bear Bryant to Pierce's grandfather changed his course and he wound up playing the rest of his college ball at Alabama.
On Friday in game one of the Tallahassee Regional it all came together beautifully for Pierce. His son sparked a five-run fourth inning with a leadoff double and the Trojans beat the Crimson Tide 5-2 to advance into the Winner's Bracket tomorrow evening.
"All of it's a tremendous blessing, I don't know if words can really describe it," said Pierce after defeating his alma mater. "I really like this team as well and then for this team to be with me here where I kind of grew up so to speak, and to have my son playing well is always a great thing. I had a lot of family, a lot of friends here today.
"So to play a baseball game as a head coach with that kind of environment is certainly a blessing. No doubt."
The Trojans' 4th inning would prove completely back-breaking for the Crimson Tide. Bama starter Charley Sullivan was chased with just one out and Troy pushed five across in the frame to go up decisively, 5-1.
After Pierce doubled to lead things off, Danny Collins drew a walk on a full count to put two on for 1B Trae Santos. The junior didn't wait long to connect with his 17th home run of the season, rocketing Sullivan's very first offering well over the left field wall for his first opposite field shot of the year.
After Josh McDorman's second hit of the day and a fielding error that once again put two on, Ali Knowles hit a one-out single to make it 5-1.
Brandon Brown added a single of his own the very next at-bat and officially ended Sullivan's day. He lasted just 3.1 innings, gave up five runs, four earned, six hits, two walks and struck out one for the Tide in game one.
He also took the loss.
Alabama got a couple of runs, one each in the 3rd and 7th, but never managed to mount the kind of rally needed to pull them back into the game after losing their 1-0 lead in the top of the 4th.
Their best chance came in the bottom of the 7th inning when they managed to chase Troy starter Shane McCain. After Austen Smith hit a solo home run to lead off the inning the Tide managed to put two on with two outs. But Nate Hill came on for Troy and bailed the Trojans out with a big strikeout to end the inning.
McCain's final line was 6.2 IP, two earned runs, seven hits, a walk and six strikeouts.
"When we've got guys that cover ground like Ali [Knowles], I just throw strikes and get after them," said McCain. "Especially when we've got that four run lead, it's just about throwing strikes... just keeping the ball down and locating."
The Tide tried to put together one final rally in the bottom of the ninth when Hill walked a couple of batters to bring the tying run to the plate with two outs.
Tanner Hicks came on for the Trojans to try and get the final out of the inning and managed to induce a towering pop-out from Tyler Vaughn to give the Trojans the win and pick up his second save of the year.
Troy will take on the winner of Savannah State-Florida State tomorrow. Alabama will play with their season on the line in the loser's bracket tomorrow against the loser of game two.
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(Photo courtesy of Ryan Syrkus)