TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- With the University of Alabama down to its final out and the series against Auburn hanging in the balance, Hunter Gregory rolled a slow grounder that had all the hallmarks of a game-ending double play.
But the senior outfielder busted it down the line and gave Alabama one last breath.
“I knew it was bang-bang,” Gregory said. “As soon as I hit it, I was just trying to make sure I got out of the box and just give Taylor (Dugas) a chance to make something happen.”
And Dugas, the unquestioned leader of the Tide, did just that. On a 1-0 pitch, the senior from Louisiana turned on a high fastball and sent Alabama home with a 4-3 walk-off win over in-state rival Auburn.
Dugas connected with the pitch and coach Mitch Gaspard prayed the ball would carry. Both player and coach found themselves willing the ball beyond the outfield wall.
“I hit it good and I knew it was going to be close,” said an elated Dugas after the game. “I thought I had a shot initially and then I saw it kind of die a little bit at the end. I was self-talking to the ball right there to get up and it worked out.”
Said Gaspard: “We were blowing as much as we could to try and get that thing up and out. Fortunately he clicked it just enough to get it out of here.”
Even Gregory found himself glancing back to see if the ball would carry out. Determined not to let a scoring opportunity passed if it didn’t, he put his head down and motored home. A sea of crimson and white was there to greet him.
“Everybody at home plate kind of gave it away for me,” Gregory said. “I was like, ‘What are y’all doing?’ I had no idea.”
With the win, the Tide improve to 12-19 overall and 3-8 in the SEC.
For a team that spoke of having dirt thrown on its coffin before the series, the chance to celebrate two games with late-inning heroics in as many nights was a welcome relief.
Dugas, who got the proverbial shaving cream pie to the face after the homer, was glad to hand the Tide their first SEC series win of the season. The Edge shaving gel may have stung his eyes, but for a team in search of consistency, back-to-back wins was well worth the pain.
“It’s huge, especially against those guys,” Dugas said. “It’s such a big game. We’ve had our struggles early on this year. Winning the series is good but we know we need to do more than win the series. We need to come out tomorrow and have a good day.”
Gaspard used the final inning as a metaphor for how he’d like his team to play moving forward.
“I felt like in the ninth inning if we’d get Dugas to the plate, we’d have a shot,” Gaspard said. “A two-run homer -- a lot had to happen to get to that. (Cameron) Carlisle had the good at-bat to get on and then Gregory legs out the potential double-play ball to set that up.
“That’s just playing hard.”
Alabama will got for the sweep on Sunday at 1:05 p.m. CST. Jon Keller (0-1, 4.18 ERA) will start for the Tide.