Alabama answers its wakeup call

9 minutes ago
Kevin Scarbinsky

Photo: Michael Wade

Welcome to the 2022 SEC Baseball Tournament Blog, your online home for the big news, behind-the-scenes notes and quotes and special moments that make this annual event at the Hoover (Ala.) Met the best college baseball tournament in the nation. Check back for updates each day throughout the week.

Motivation and melatonin: Alabama answers its wakeup call

It’s a question parents and SEC baseball coaches in May have tried to answer forever. How do you get young people up and at ’em early in the morning? Alabama’s Brad Bohannon and Georgia’s Scott Stricklin faced that challenge as their teams met in Game 1 Tuesday morning.

“I wish I had an answer for it,” Stricklin said after the Bulldog bats slept in, piling up 17 strikeouts on their somnambulant scorecard like so many pillows. “I’d write a book about it and maybe not coach anymore.”

Stricklin could find humor in the 5-3 defeat that made his team’s stay in Hoover a short one. Georgia (35-21) is considered a lock to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Alabama, finding itself on the outside of at-large projections, arrived with a greater sense of urgency. Bohannon made it clear to his team and everyone else that it would take multiple victories here to extend the Tide’s season.

“Obviously it was do-or-die for us,” Bohannon said. “You could tell our kids were excited.”

Before Georgia could wipe the sleep from its eyes, Alabama (30-25) bounced out of bed with five runs in its first two at-bats to take a 5-0 lead that would be more than enough. Andrew Pinckney drove in the first run

and scored the second on a heads-up tag-up on a foul pop to spark a three-run first inning. The Crimson Tide’s No. 2 hitter shared his game plan: Go to bed early. Take some melatonin. Get as much sleep as possible. Eat a good breakfast.

What was the strategy when rain forced Pinckney and company to sit on their 5-1 lead in the bottom of the third for two hours and six minutes?

“Definitely a lot of snacks, a lot of just talking with the guys. I try not to get on my phone at all and just chop it up with the boys and have a good time.”

Beware the tick-tock of Alabama’s Big Ben Hess

Alabama coach Brad Bohannon said he wasn’t surprised. The Georgia hitters sure seemed to be. Alabama freshman right-hander Ben Hess, who took the mound after the 2:06 rain delay, faced 15 batters. He struck out 10 of them s, seven of them in a row.

Georgia’s Parks Harber said the 6-foot-5, 225-pound Hess located all four of his pitches – fastball, curve, slider and changeup – “so it was hard to be on time.”

It took Hess, the former high school player of the year in Illinois, some time to deliver the best performance of his young college career. His development was slowed by a non-throwing injury during Christmas break. He didn’t make his first appearance for the Tide until March 9 but earned a role as the team’s primary midweek starter.

Then came Tuesday and a sparkling SEC Tournament debut that, along with the 10 punchouts, included only one hit, one walk and no runs allowed in 4 ⅓ innings. His coach called the performance “the story of the game.”

“If you look over the last 10 or 15 years,” Bohannon said, “there’s been a lot of really talented freshmen come to this tournament, and people are like,

‘Oh, Wow, who is that guy,’ and I think that was kind of Ben’s moment today.”

The cherry on top? During the rain delay, Hess said, “We got some Jimmy John’s, so that was nice.”

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