Late VMI rally falls short at Alabama in 10-5 loss

vmi_logoOnce again, the VMI Keydets jumped out to an early lead on the road, but the Alabama Crimson Tide scored six straight runs in the early innings and turned back a late VMI rally with three eighth-inning tallies en route to a 10-5 win, in NCAA baseball action Saturday afternoon at Sewell-Thomas Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Saturday’s game marked the second straight day that VMI (0-2) had taken an early lead, as the Keydets went up 3-1 in the second inning. Unlike Friday night, where VMI led until the sixth, Saturday’s lead lasted just half an inning as the Tide (2-0) scored three times in the bottom half of the frame to take the lead for good. The Keydets mounted a valiant rally, drawing to within 7-5 in the eighth and bringing the tying run to the plate, but Alabama closer Jake Hubbard got Will Connerley to fly to center to end the inning. The home team then scored a trio of runs in the eighth to ice the victory.

In the setback, the Keydets did outhit the Tide, 14-13, on the day, paced by a career-high four hits from shortstop Nick Dwyer and three singles from leadoff hitter Jordan Tarsovich. Dwyer is now 6 for 9 to open his sophomore campaign, while Tarsovich has been on base in five of his nine plate appearances.

Both starters were the pitchers of record, with Campbell Henkel (0-1) taking the loss for VMI after lasting 3 1/3 innings, giving up six runs on seven hits and issuing five walks. Jon Keller (1-0) allowed three runs on seven hits, striking out eight and walking just one in a start lasting a predetermined four innings. Hubbard picked up the save by allowing just one run over the final two frames.

Alabama struck first on the blustery, cool day, with winds hovering near 20 miles an hour and first pitch temperature at 47 degrees. Georgie Salem led off with an infield hit and stole second, and Mikey White walked. After a sacrifice bunt, Ben Moore hit a sacrifice fly to left field to make it a 1-0 game.

The Keydets responded with three runs in the second, when Berkley Hawkins led off with a walk. One out later, Dwyer singled to put runners on the corners and Brandon Angus followed with a two-run double down the left field line, scoring both runners to put VMI up, 2-1. After a Matt Winn single moved Angus up 90 feet, Drew Bryan struck out, but Tarsovich followed with a RBI single to push the margin to 3-1.

The Crimson Tide came right back with a three-spot in the bottom half of the inning. Steven Cole had the last of three straight singles to open the inning, scoring Brett Booth and cutting the VMI lead to 3-2. Ryan Blanchard then had a bunt single that was fielded by Henkel and thrown away, allowing Cary Baxter to score from second. Two batters later, Kyle Overstreet gave the home team the lead for good with an infield hit, making it a 4-3 contest.

The Tide added three more in the third, highlighted by a two-run home run for Moore. That was Henkel’s last batter of the game, as T.J. Lighton emerged from the bullpen to make his collegiate debut. Lighton surrendered an unearned run in that frame, but that would be all Alabama could muster against the redshirt freshman, who allowed three hits, no walks and struck out three over 3 2/3 impressive innings.

Lighton’s performance gave VMI a chance, trailing 7-3, to mount a rally. A Ray Lopez sixth-inning bases-loaded walk got the deficit down to three, 7-4, but Keaton Haack struck out Connerley with the bases still loaded, ending the threat before the Keydets could draw closer. Neither team scored again until the eighth, when Winn led off with a single. Thomas Stallings then doubled down the left field line, with Winn advancing to third. Tarsovich struck out, but Lopez looped a sacrifice fly to center, making it a two-run game at 7-5. With Stallings on third, Connerley worked the count to 3-2 before eventually flying out to center himself to end the frame.

The home team then put three on the board in the eighth to account for the final margin.

In addition to Tarsovich and Dwyer, the Keydets saw Winn, Angus and Dickinson notch two hits apiece. VMI also stole three bases, the team’s most since pilfering four against Old Dominion on March 13, 2012.

VMI and Alabama close out their three-game series Sunday, with the first pitch in Tuscaloosa, Ala. set for 2:05 p.m. Eastern time.

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