Last decision will haunt Tide's baseball team in off-season
by Joe Medley
jmedley@annistonstar.com
Jun 02, 2013 | 6609 views |  0 comments | 53 53 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Alabama's Brett Booth (5) is caught off base by Troy first baseman Trae Santos (19) in the fourth inning of their NCAA tournament game Sunday. (Photo by Phil Sears/Associated Press)
Alabama's Brett Booth (5) is caught off base by Troy first baseman Trae Santos (19) in the fourth inning of their NCAA tournament game Sunday. (Photo by Phil Sears/Associated Press)
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Alabama coach Mitch Gaspard seemed to push the right buttons with batting-order changes headed into Sunday’s NCAA Tallahassee Regional elimination game against Troy.

It’s the decision to stay with closer Ray Castillo that will haunt Gaspard in the offseason.

Troy completed a rally from a four-run deficit with four runs off of Castillo in the bottom of the ninth inning to eliminate Alabama, 9-8.

Troy (42-19) advanced to play top seed Florida State (46-15) in the final round at 4 p.m. If Troy wins, the two will play again Monday at 4 p.m.

Alabama finished its season 35-28 after one, agonizing finale for six seniors.

“I can’t even describe it,” said senior left-fielder Andrew Miller, who had two hits on the day. “You never want to go out that way.

“It happened, and we’re just going to have to live with it and move on.”

Gaspard said the final game was typical of the season.

“This has been a season where we’ve been on the edge somewhat late in games, and command got us,” he said, “but we’ve been able to finish most of them off. Today, we weren’t.”

Troy, which sent Alabama into the elimination bracket with a 5-2 victory Friday, was down 8-4 headed into the eighth inning but scored a run in the eighth off reliever Jay Shaw and four in the ninth. The game ended when Castillo walked Brandon Brown with one out and the bases loaded.

Castillo (2-3) set the Alabama freshman record with his 12th save of the season Saturday against Savannah State and looked like a good option to start the ninth inning Sunday, but he walked three batters and hit two others. He also surrendered Kyle Brown’s two-run double and Matthew Howard’s run-scoring single.

“It’s just a learning tool, teaching tool for him,” Gaspard said. “Not just Ray, but all the guys can learn from this.

“The games always turn around the fastball and commanding the fastball, and I think that’s one thing you get when you have the young pitching staff at times. You get some command issues.”

Gaspard had several veteran options, including redshirt junior Tucker Hawley, who worked one inning against Savannah State. There was even senior Charley Sullivan, who had a short start (3 1/3 innings) in Alabama’s loss to Troy on Friday.

“At that point, you’ve obviously got a three-run lead,” Gaspard said. “It’s a save situation. If it would have been four (a four-run lead), we would have went a different way.

“You know, the one thing about Ray, he broke the saves record yesterday. He’s been so good for us in the ninth inning. If I’m not mistaken, that’s the first time that’s happened this year that it’s been a blown save.”

Shaw started Troy’s comeback by loading the bases on a hit batsman and two walks in the eighth inning, and Brandon Brown singled home a run to cut the Crimson Tide’s lead to 8-5.

Crimson Tide starter Spencer Turnbull allowed five hits and four earned runs with six strikeouts in six innings of work.

Reliever Jeremy McGowan (2-0) got the win for Troy, working the final inning and a third. He retired all four batters he faced, becoming the only pitcher of the four Troy trotted out not to give up a hit.

“That was a great example of who we are and what we’ve been all year,” said Troy coach Bobby Pierce, a former Alabama player and assistant coach. “To get four in the ninth in this environment was a special thing.”

The day’s intrigue started with Gaspard’s lineup changes, which came after Alabama produced just five runs in its first two regional games. Among several changes in the batting order, he moved hot-hitting leadoff hitter Kenny Rogers to third, hoping to get base runners in front of him.

Roberts went 1-for-4 and scored two runs. Ironically, his one hit came when he led off the sixth inning.

Also, eight- and nine-hole hitters Andrew Miller and Chance Vincent, whose places in the order did not change, went a combined 5-for-8 and scored three runs.

Still, Alabama outhit Troy 15-8. Leadoff hitter Mikey White, four-hole hitter Brett Booth, five-hole hitter Austen Smith and six-hole hitter Kyle Overstreet each had two hits.

Alabama took an 8-4 lead in the eighth on Georgie Salem’s sacrifice fly to plate Miller.

Booth’s two-run double put Alabama ahead 6-4 in the top of the seventh, and Smith followed up with a run-scoring double.

Troy had just tied the game 4-4 with three runs in the bottom of the sixth. The rally featured Josh McDorman’s two-run double and Howard’s run-scoring sacrifice fly to center field.

Alabama went up 4-1 on run-scoring singles by Overstreet and Ben Moore in the top of the sixth, and the Tide broke a 1-1 tie when Miller beat a throw home on White’s grounder to first base in the fifth.

Troy tied the game at 1-1 on McDorman’s RBI single in the fourth to answer Salem’s sacrifice fly to plate Chance Vincent in the third.

Alabama got plenty done offensively, with hits off of three of the four Troy pitchers who saw action Sunday. The Crimson Tide had a four-run lead with two innings to go and couldn’t hold it.

“That’s the thing about a closer,” Gaspard said. “It’s going to happen. Unfortunately, today it happened in the finale. Obviously, a lot more emphasis is put on that, but that kid’s been great.”

Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, jmedley@annistonstar.com. On Twitter @jmedley_star.

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