Alabama’s SEC Tournament Run Ends, But The Tide Are Just Getting Started

Image credit: Photo by Eddie Kelly

HOOVER, Ala. – Alabama on Friday saw its SEC Tournament run come to an end with a 9-2 loss to Vanderbilt in an elimination game. It fell short in its bid to advance to the semifinals for the first time since 2010 but ended an otherwise successful tournament run in front of a large, crimson-clad crowd at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium.

The Crimson Tide went 2-2 this week, improved to 40-19 on the season and pushed their RPI into the top 12. They’ve won 40 games for the first time since 2010 and appear to be poised to host regionals for the first time since 2006.

Alabama will make the short trip home to Tuscaloosa to await its fate. The selection committee on Sunday evening will announce the 16 regional hosts and on Monday the whole NCAA Tournament field. Fourth-year shortstop Jim Jarvis said after spending the last two seasons on the tournament bubble, uncertain of their postseason fate, the Tide are enjoying their more confident positioning.

“We know we’re going to have baseball, which is really, really exciting, because that’s what everyone wants,” Jarvis said. “I think everyone is just really excited to get back home, watch the selection show and then see where we’re at.”

That Alabama is in this position at all is remarkable. The Tide were picked to finish fifth in the SEC West in the preseason coaches’ poll, a position that probably would have seen them again on the bubble at the end of the season. And, when the calendar flipped to May, that’s about where Alabama was. It was 30-15, 9-12 and trying to find a way to win two of its final three series to get into the NCAA Tournament.

Then, on May 4, the program and college baseball were stunned with the dismissal of coach Brad Bohannon. While Alabama did not disclose any details on why Bohannon was fired in the midst of his sixth season at the program’s helm, it came just a few days after gambling regulators in Ohio and later in New Jersey and Pennsylvania removed Crimson Tide baseball from sportsbooks due to suspicious wagering activity. ESPN later reported surveillance video from a sportsbook indicated the person who placed the suspicious bets was in communication with Bohannon.

In the wake of that bombshell, pitching coach Jason Jackson was promoted to interim head coach and Alabama took the field that night to play Vanderbilt. The Tide defeated the Commodores, 11-2. After losing the following day, Alabama won the rubber game of the series, 2-1. That weekend proved to be the start of a run for the Tide.

Under Jackson, they are 10-2 and have gone from trying to play their way into the tournament field to likely hosting a regional.

While the Tide could have gotten lost in the turmoil around the program, they instead came out of it stronger. Jackson said he told the team they could remain focused and get through the tough time.

“I think the message for the guys was just, guys, this doesn’t affect you unless you let it,” Jackson said. “Let’s just continue to stay focused on what we need to do, and you guys have a lot of good baseball in front of you. You’ve got everything you want to accomplish is right in front of you. You’re kind of at that crossroads; like which way do you want to take it? Do you want to let it derail you and use it as an excuse, or are you going to keep doing the things that we’ve been doing all year? We’ve been playing really good baseball. Let’s continue to stay in our routines. Let’s continue to keep things business as usual.

“And again, I go back, I’ve said this a million times, but it really helps to have the team that we have, a really older, mature team who did a great job handling that.”

Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said he’s been impressed with the job Jackson has done and Alabama’s surge over the last month.

“I mentioned to J.J. at home plate how I felt like he had done a really nice job with his team from afar in terms of holding them together, playing well,” Corbin said. “They’ve got some good older kids on that team.

“They’re a tough team. They pitch really well, and they certainly can hit.”

Alabama has 15 players on the roster who are in at least their fourth year of college baseball. Two—first baseman Drew Williamson and righthander Jacob McNairy—were a part of the 2019 team that went just 7-23 in conference play and finished last in the SEC West.

To see the program go from that difficult season to now packing 15,012 fans in the Hoover Met for an SEC Tournament game and likely hosting a regional has been fulfilling for the Tide veterans.

“I’ll tell you, it feels a lot better than how we started out,” Williamson said. “It’s a lot of fun. You just trust the process and you grow in the game, and this team has just kind of been able to grow together and develop such a tight bond. To finally see it, to see the results on the field has been nice for sure.”

Alabama is one of the most complete teams in the SEC. The Tide rank third in the league in scoring (7.8 runs per game) and second in team ERA (3.98). Outfielders Tommy Seidl (.364/.470/.568) and Andrew Pinckney (.350/.448/.650, 16 HR) make for a strong duo and freshman slugger Colby Shelton (.294/.407/.701, 22 HR) has made an immediate impact this season. On the mound, righthander Luke Holman (7-3, 3.50) has become one of the SEC’s best starters with McNairy (6-2, 4.08) and righthander Garrett McMillan (4-2, 3.99) joining him in a strong rotation. Freshman Alton Davis II (0-2, 4.15, 7 SV) anchors a strong bullpen.

Alabama doesn’t have much postseason experience. The Tide went 1-2 in the Ruston Regional in 2021 and only a handful of players on this year’s roster have played in the NCAA Tournament. Despite that, they’re not going to be happy just getting in or hosting a regional. The Tide are playing with a lot of belief and want to keep playing deep into June.

So, after recovering from a taxing week in Hoover, Alabama will start preparations for the NCAA Tournament. Jarvis said the way the Tide approached this week at the SEC Tournament was a good sign as they take the next step into regionals.

“Everyone just being able to keep their mind focused and locked in on what’s ahead,” Jarvis said. “No one really got caught up or sped up. It was really, really a good sign for us.”

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