The Crimson Tide’s NCAA tournament return after a year’s absence saw Troy get to a senior pitcher.
The third-seeded Trojans’ put up a five-run fourth inning, highlighted by Trae Santos’ three-run home run off Alabama starter Charley Sullivan. Troy pitchers Shane McCain, Nate Hill and Tanner Hicks did the rest, combining to help send second-seeded Alabama to the elimination bracket.
The Crimson Tide (34-27) will play Saturday at 11 a.m. against Savannah State, which lost its opener 10-0 to Florida State. Troy (41-18) will play FSU at 4 p.m. Saturday.
Alabama coach Mitch Gaspard faces a pitching dilemma. Does he start No. 2 starter Spencer Turnbull or save him, possibly going with freshman Mike Oczypok in the elimination game?
“We’ll look. We don’t have a lot of information,” Gaspard said. “We’ll have to gauge a lot tonight from what we see.
“We’re here to try to win the tournament. It’s not to win a game and go home, so we’re going to try to put our team in the best position that we feel like will help us continue to advance in the tournament.”
The bright side for Alabama on Friday was Taylor Guilbeau’s relief work of Sullivan. Guilbeau worked the final 5 2/3 innings, saving the rest of the Tide’s bullpen.
“That’s the one thing with our pitching staff,” Gaspard said. “We are pretty deep. We’ve got another six or seven guys down there that are all very capable.
“I think it was big for Taylor today to come out and do that and, obviously, to save those guys.”
Friday’s Alabama-Troy meeting was the second of the season. The Tide won 11-2 on May 8 in Tuscaloosa.
“We knew Troy was good then,” Gaspard said. “That’s just kind of baseball. We were able to kind of jump on them and had some midweek pitching and really kind of did to them what they did to us today and just extended it later in the game.
“At this time of the year, everybody is so close right now that it really comes down to a couple of pitches throughout the ballgame.”
Friday, Alabama took a 1-0 lead on Kenny Roberts’ sacrifice liner to left field to score Brett Booth, who singled and moved to third on Andrew Miller’s bunt single through a shifting Troy infield.
Troy answered in the top of the fourth by tagging Sullivan (5-7) with five hits. He also issued a walk, and Alabama shortstop Mikey White’s bobble on a grounder by Justin Hancock helped the rally along.
Troy’s rally included Logan Pierce’s leadoff double to right-center field and Danny Collins’ walk ahead of Santos’ home run. The Trojans also got singles from Josh McDorman, Brandon Brown and Ali Knowles, who drove in two runs with his.
“They’re a really good offensive team, for one, particularly right there, where they were at in the lineup,” Gaspard said. “Pierce leads the inning off with a big double there, and we walk a guy and left a ball up the Santos, who drives it out.
“I thought that really energized their offense and, really, the remainder of that inning they put some good swings on him.”
Santos’ home run was his 17th of the season, and he has a team-high 69 RBIs. Sullivan worked the left-hander inside then soft-and-away, but Santos hit what Gaspard called “a no-doubter” to left field.
When Sullivan left one high and outside, Santos said he had to overcome his urge to pull the ball.
“I noticed the Alabama pitcher was pounding me away,” Santos said. “I know I can go that way. I’m just pretty stubborn and just try to yank everything.”
Alabama managed Austen Smith’s team-high seventh home run of the season, a solo shot in the bottom of the seventh inning, but couldn’t string together hits.
McCain (9-1) was strong for Troy, working 6 2/3 innings and throwing 75 strikes in 105 pitches. The left-hander and Sun Belt Conference pitcher of the year allowed seven hits, and both runs were earned.
Hill, another lefty, came on to strike out lefty Georgie Salem then pitch a scoreless eighth and two thirds of the ninth.
“When we got to the spot where we were at, Nate Hill’s specialty is left-on-left,” Troy coach Bobby Pierce said. “Shane had done a good job all day, but Salem had hit one ball pretty hard that Ali ran down, so we made the change there.”
Hill gave way to Hicks, a righty and possible Game 2 starter, with runners on first and second bases, and Hicks got Salem to pop out to center field to end the game.
“It was a little different from what we’ve been seeing,” Gaspard said. “It’s a lot of off-speed pitches and a lot of breaking balls and soft-tossing left-handers.”
McCain, in particular, kept Alabama off balance for long stretches.
“He really did a good job of locating his fastball in and out and mixing up fastball, curveball and changeup,” Booth said. “Every time we started to get something going, we could never really get momentum. He would always make a big pitch.”
Now, Alabama has to play for survival.
“It’s just taking it one pitch at a time,” Roberts said. “Our coaches preach that, and as players we live by that. If we take one pitch at a time, we’ll be fine.”
Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @jmedley_star.