TUSCALOOSA — Brad Bohannon has two benchmarks for what he calls a “good team.”
“We have to consistently play pretty good baseball,” Alabama’s first-year baseball coach said, “and we have to beat some good teams.”
His club notched the second Wednesday, shutting out No. 15 Southern Mississippi 2-0 for its ninth straight home win — the Crimson Tide’s longest home-winning streak since 2010.
With a sweep of Mississippi State already on its resume, Southern Miss entered Wednesday hitting .320 — the most prolific, proven offense Bohannon’s Tide (11-2) had faced in 13 games.
It mustered two hits against a maturing midweek pitching staff spearheaded by two Tommy John surgery returnees.
Garret Rukes and Brock Love have teamed to start three the Tide’s first four midweek games, tossing 13 scoreless innings. The duo has walked just four and struck out 15. In four midweek games, Alabama has allowed four runs.
“I thought everyone who pitched tonight did a great job of throwing their secondary pitches for strikes,” Bohannon said. “It makes it hard to hit when you’re facing a pitcher, no matter what their stuff is, if they’re throwing two or three pitches for strikes."
Bohannon suggested this week he’d extend Rukes. After two-inning stints in his first two appearances, the southpaw threw three innings Wednesday. A leadoff single and a first-inning walk were the only blemishes on his line.
Twenty-four of Rukes’ 40 pitches were strikes. He retired the final seven men he faced before handing Love the baseball to begin the fourth inning.
“We went through the whole recovery process together,” Love said, “and we throw with each other every single day. It’s kind of cool going off that guy.”
Love promptly struck out the side. In two innings, he faced the minimum six batters, aided by a 5-4-3 double play that erased the leadoff walk he issued in the fifth inning.
“Things are working for us,” said Love, who was credited with the win. “We’re just going to keep at it and doing what we’re doing. We’re doing something right.”
The Golden Eagles did not place men in scoring position until the seventh inning, when Deacon Medders yielded a one-out single then issued a walk.
The sophomore right-hander induced a weak grounder from left-handed hitting Hunter Slater before striking out designated hitter Daniel Keating, yelling into the air and fist pumping as he exited the diamond.
“That was huge,” Bohannon said. “That’s a really good offensive club, they probably didn’t look that way tonight, but we thought Deacon was the best matchup for the middle of the order. … He did a good job.”
Held hitless across the first three innings, Alabama mounted a fourth-inning uprising. Hunter Alexander led off with a double down the third-base line, advancing to third on Keith Holcombe’s pristine bunt up the third-base line — one he beat out for a single.
Five-hole hitter Chandler Avant golfed a sinking liner into left field. Golden Eagles left fielder Jaylon Keys charged the ball, tripping on the sod, allowing the ball to drop for a double and Alexander to score easily from second.
Shortstop Jett Manning got Holcombe home with a sacrifice fly two batters later.
“It helped us out a lot getting to see their staff,” said Avant, who had two of his team’s six hits. “They have a good pitching staff and a good team in general. For us to see that before SEC play coming up later, any pitching we can see like that helps us out.”
Manning manufactured a seventh-inning insurance run, too. He drew a full-count walk to lead off the frame before stealing second. Manning advancing to third on a wild pitch before executing a contact play with Walker McCleney at the plate.
McCleney chopped a grounder to first base. Manning broke on contact — “rolling the dice” as Bohannon termed it — beating Slater’s throw without a slide, affording his team a three-run lead the pitching staff would not relinquish.
“I think we know that we can play at a high level and that we can play with anyone,” Love said.