Headed into the bottom of the ninth inning Alabama was holding tight to an 8-5 lead, just three outs from staving off elimination and moving on to face Florida State in the championship game of the Tallahassee NCAA Regional.
Just a half hour later they were sitting at a press conference, still stunned from a heartbreaking 9-8 loss that ended their season and left them with a sick feeling in their stomachs.
"You never want to go out that way," said senior OF Andrew Miller. "It happened and we’ll just have to learn to live with it and move on, but you never want to go out that way just like we just did."
Head coach Mitch Gaspard called it one of the most painful losses of his entire life.
"It is, it is [one of the most painful]," said Gaspard. "It’s really an unfair way to finish the season as hard as this team has played."
"Obviously tough, tough way to lose there, I thought our guys competed really hard and you know this has been a season where we’ve been on the edge like that some late in games and to be honest we’ve been able to pull a lot of those out, today we weren’t.”
Down three in the bottom of the ninth Troy stayed patient, worked counts and took advantage of control issues from Alabama closer Ray Castillo.
"The game’s always centered around the fastball and command of the fastball," said Gaspard. "I think that’s one thing you get when you have a young pitching staff at times you get some command issues and we’ve had that for a good part of the year."
Just a day after setting the Alabama freshman record with his 12th save of the season against Savannah State, Castillo struggled to locate his pitches against the Trojans. After plunking the first batter he faced, Castillo was able to strike out Logan Pierce but walked the next hitter to put two on with one out.
Kyle Brown came through in the next at bat with a two-run double to make it 8-7 and put the tying run in scoring position. Castillo walked the next hitter before issuing an RBI single to Matthew Howard that tied the game and put the winning run 90 feet from home. After another hit batter to load the bags, Castillo walked the winning run in when he lost Brandon Brown on a 3-1 count.
That brought the winning run in a broke the hearts of many of the Tide faithful.
“He’s been so good for us in the ninth inning," said Gaspard. "If I’m not mistaken that’s the first time where it’s happened this year, and that’s the thing about a closer- it’s going to happen. It’s just it happened in the finale and obviously a lot more emphasis is put on that but that kid’s been great. He’s been great for us.”
This game was definitely Alabama's to lose heading into the 9th.
The Crimson Tide combined for 15 hits and 8 runs and had already managed to stave off a Troy comeback attempt earlier in the game.
Alabama used a couple of sacrifices to push runs across in the early going. Georgie Salem hit a deep flyball to center that brought in Chance Vincent in the third and in the fifth the Tide got another on Mikey White's grounder to first.
But it was back to back RBI singles in the top of the sixth that put Troy's backs up against the wall the first time. Kyle Overstreet ripped a one-out single to right-center that scored Kenny Roberts and Ben Moore followed up with an RBI single of his own to bring 1B Austin Smith in and make it 4-1 Alabama.
But the Trojans dug in and came back with a three-run bottom of the sixth that made it 4-4 heading into the final three innings.
With the bases loaded Josh McDorman cranked a two-run double over Salem's head out in centerfielder to cut the Bama advantage to 4-3. A batter later Matthew Howard hit a sac-fly to even the score at four.
But Bama didn't buckle, they matched Troy's three-run 6th with a three-run 7th of their own and jumped back ahead 7-4.
Back-to-back doubles brought in three Tide runs when Brett Booth drove in two and Austen Smith brought Booth in with a two-bagger of his own in the next at-bat. An inning later Alabama made it 8-4 on Georgie Salem's second sac-fly of the afternoon.
But it wasn't enough, Troy never gave up hope and managed to steal one away in the final frame.
“It’s just one of those things you can’t explain," said Troy 3B Logan Pierce. "I told [Tyler Vaughn] in the top of the ninth that I’d seen crazier things. That’s what happened something crazy. That’s what it takes in the postseason and it’s just a great thing that everyone stepped up and did.”
“That was a great example of who we are and what we’ve been all year," said Troy third base coach Mark Smartt. "To get four in the ninth in this environment was a special thing. I couldn’t be prouder of all our players and it took everybody. We had pitchers running. We had guys getting big hits. I give Brandon Brown a lot of credit for taking the walk. That’s hard to do but it showed a lot of spirit, a lot of character, a lot of heart. The words ‘all in’ really do mean that and I couldn’t be prouder of our team.”
Troy moves on to play Florida State this evening, Alabama heads home with a sour taste in their mouths.
“Too many opportunities that we allowed Troy to have," said Gaspard. "They did a good job to get some big hits there in the ninth inning, but it doesn’t take away I think our guys competed extremely hard and I think our young guys learned a lot from the tournament and now we’ve just got to regroup and get ready for next year.”
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(Photo courtesy of Ryan Syrkus)