The Alabama Crimson Tide staved off elimination and sent the Savannah State Tigers packing instead on Saturday afternoon in the Tallahassee NCAA Regional.
Leadoff man 3B Kenny Roberts went 3 for 4 to set the table for the Tide and starter Mike Oczypok fought off a blister to toss seven shut-out innings, but a late Savannah State rally pushed Alabama to the brink before they could escape with a 3-2 win.
"Right now this time of the year you'll take an ugly win," said Alabama head coach Mitch Gaspard afterward. "That's certainly what it was today."
Alabama struck first when they pushed two runs across in the top of the 4th inning. 2B Kyle Overstreet singled to lead things off and SS Mikey White added a one-out single to put two on for 1B Austen Smith.
Just as he did when he homered yesterday, Smith came through with some offense for the Tide- this time in the form of an RBI double. The next batter Brett Booth added an RBI on a sacrifice fly to make it 2-0 Alabama.
The following inning the Tide added another run to their lead when CF Georgie Salem sent an RBI single to right to make it 3-0.
That ended up being all the offense Alabama could muster though.
Savannah State starter Jack May was solid on the day for the Tigers, working six innings, giving up seven hits and three earned runs while walking one and striking out two. Unfortunately, the SSU offense was able to provide little support for him against Oczypok.
"Give credit, I thought Mike Oczypok was tremendous," said Gaspard. "He developed a blister in about the third inning that he really battled through and got through seven innings with."
After failing to register a hit the first couple of innings the best the Tigers could do against the Bama freshman was threaten as Alabama's defense helped Oczypok escape jam after jam.
In the third inning 2B Darien Campbell lead off with a single and made it to third on a couple of sacrifice bunts, but Savannah State couldn't get him across. After stranding another runner in the fourth, the Tigers once again got a runner to third base in the fifth inning but left him hanging 90 feet from home when a ground-out ended the inning.
Perhaps the Tigers' best opportunity to score against Oczypok came in the bottom of the 6th when SS Todd Hagen lead off with a double. After a couple of quick outs, RF David Richards singled through the right side of the infield on an 0-1 pitch but Hagen was gunned down at home on a perfect throw from Alabama RF Ben Moore.
"Missed opportunities," said SSU head coach Carlton Hardy. "Again, give credit to their starting pitcher, when we got a guy in scoring position, he went to his breaking ball and threw some quality pitches and their guys made plays behind him."
An inning later the Tigers stranded two more runners. Campbell hit a two-out single and 3B Michael McHugh got plunked by a pitch, but Oczypok rared back and struck out CF Antonio Scott swinging for the third out.
Perhaps most impressively, Oczypok did it without his best pitch.
"We had to get rid of the two-seam fastball, what I usually throw," said Oczypok after the game. "But our trainer did a great job of getting it ready before each inning, ever since before the game, throughout the whole game when it really started ripping open and then in the last inning it literally just ripped open."
That blister- and not the SSU offense- ultimately forced the Bama freshman to exit the game. Oczypok finished the afternoon after seven shutout innings having given up just six hits and a walk while striking out four.
Things came apart when Tucker Hawley relieved Oczypok in the bottom of the 8th though. After being unable to pick up any timely hits against Bama's starter, the Tigers quickly jumped on Hawley. Hagen picked up his second hit of the day on a leadoff single and 1B Kevin Herlihy brought him in on a double for Savannah State's first run of the weekend.
Drew Quinney pinch hit next and hit another double, scoring Herlihy, to cut the Tide lead to 3-2. A passed ball would bring the tying run to third, but once again the Tide's defense helped them work out of it.
A one-out squeeze backfired and the lead runner was caught at home on the throw, a batter later C Chris Arnold grounded out and ended the threat.
"When that runner got to third, I just knew we were going to get out of it," said Roberts. "Tucker's an older guy, I felt he was going to step up and that's what he did."
Fortunately for Alabama the ninth proved much less eventful, Ray Castillo came on to pick up his 12th save of the season. The freshman did issue a walk, but a Tide double play quickly erased it and ended the ballgame.
Alabama will play the loser of tonight's FSU-Troy game tomorrow at noon. Savannah State's season is now over after going 0-2 in Regional play.
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(Photo courtesy of Ryan Syrkus)