By Evan Dudley | Al.com
Alabama’s campaign for continued baseball is alive and well following another upset on the second day of the SEC baseball tournament.
A controversial ruling in the ninth inning allowed an 11th inning reprieve as Owen Diodati scored the go-ahead run with an RBI single.
The Crimson Tide got another solid outing from its pitching rotation and held off a late rally with a controversial ninth-inning call in a 3-2 victory over second-seeded Tennessee in the second round of the 2021 SEC Baseball Tournament, Wednesday, May 26, at the Hoover Met.
“What a crazy day at the ballpark, goodness gracious, in every way, shape, and form,” Alabama head coach Brad Bohannon said. “Just a lot of crazy plays. Tennessee played a great game. We could have easily folded or cracked after those defensive miscues in the seventh inning. Kids just keep coming, that’s what they do. This group is as resilient and as good at dealing with adversity as I’ve ever had. Just really happy for them if they can get some short-term satisfaction today.”
Alabama (31-22) advances to face 6-seed Florida on Thursday at 4:30 p.m. CT on the SEC Network.
“You can’t win this tournament going through the loser’s bracket,” Bohannon said. “I’m sure nobody’s ever lost playing one on Tuesday then lost on Wednesday and played straight through. I can’t imagine that would ever happen. So it just buys us two more days. I just keep saying, I’m not even worried about the NCAA Tournament, not even worried about winning this tournament. I just want to extend this season. I just want some more time with these guys. That’s the biggest motivation for me personally of wanting to win.”
Jacob McNairy got the start for the Crimson Tide, allowing no runs off three hits in 4 2/3 innings of work, but Chase Lee (7-0) earned the win by allowing no runs off six hits in the final 4 2/3 innings. William Freeman relieved McNairy in the bottom of the fifth inning and allowed two runs off one hit in only 1 2/3 innings.
“Incredible defense behind me,” Lee said. “It’s really easy to pitch with guys behind me. Peyton had a great play. Zane had some great plays. It was all around just a really good defensive effort, and it was really easy to pound the zone when guys like that are behind you.”
The Crimson Tide got a lead-off single from Zane Denton in the top of the second frame and advanced to third with a double from Owen Diodati. Jackson Tate grounded out on the next at-bat but scored Denton in the process for an early 1-0 lead.
Alabama added to its lead in the top half of the sixth frame, scoring on a bases-loaded issued walk of Tate that scored William Hamiter.
The Volunteers got lead-off baserunners off consecutive errors and tied the game at 2-all with back-to-back RBI singles from Connor Pavolony and Liam Spence.
Tennessee threatened again in the ninth inning but was unable to provide any walk-off magic in the final two innings. The Volunteers appeared to win the game with a walk-off RBI single but runner interference was called following video replay and Alabama ended the inning with a 1-6-4 double-play.
“I really think they got all the calls right,” Bohannon said. “I really do. I just think -- I’m going to give the league a compliment. Adding video review has been amazing. It just takes all the emotion out of it. As a coach or as a player, all you can do is ask them to take a look. I thought they got all the calls right.”
Will Heflin got the start for the Volunteers, allowing two runs off four hits, but Sean Hunley (7-4) was tagged with the loss, allowing the go-ahead run off two hits in the final frame.
Following four straight 1-2-3 innings for Alabama, Sam Praytor led off the 11th inning with a ground-rule double and scored the go-ahead run on an RBI single from Diodati. The Crimson Tide sat the Tennessee side down in order to close out the final frame.
Diodati had two RBI singles in the win over South Carolina and had two hits against the Volunteers, including the go-ahead RBI single in the 11th inning. Through two games of the tournament, Diodati is 4-for-9 with three RBI singles and a run scored.
“I think a lot of it had to do with the mental part of the game,” Diodati said. “I’m young and got some growing up to do. I think part of it is just remembering it’s just baseball and we’re here to have fun, and baseball doesn’t have to be so serious all the time. I think that’s been a big change for me the last couple of days. It’s just about going out and having fun. It’s been awesome winning these two games and being in a good position going forward in this tournament.”