Photo courtesy of the University of Alabama Sports Media Relations.
Former Hoover Buc standout Geoffrey Bramblett fires a pitch in his complete game win for Alabama over Ole Miss in the SEC Baseball Tournament at the Hoover Met.
The Alabama Crimson Tide baseball team fell short of its goal of making the NCAA regionals.
But you couldn’t pin any blame on effort, nor on the outstanding season delivered by right-hander Geoffrey Bramblett.
The former Hoover Buccaneer led the pitching staff in wins as he stepped up in his sophomore season to become the crucial Sunday starter in the rotation.
He had set the stage for that by closing out his freshman season with a complete game two-hit shutout of Georgia Southern in the Tallahassee NCAA Regional.
“Going from that last postseason start last year, I kind of expected something this year,” Bramblett said. “I didn’t know exactly what, but I was definitely thrilled to get that Sunday spot. I love being out there on Sunday giving our team a chance to win. You’re either trying to get a sweep, avoiding a sweep or winning the series. I really took that as a challenge because I was going to have a factor in every series and I loved that role. I felt like our team looked to me and trusted me and had faith in me in every start I made on Sunday.”
Bramblett finished 8-3 with a 3.81 ERA in 15 starts. He was also a team-best 4-2 in SEC games. Of his 14 true starts — he pitched just one inning against Vanderbilt in the regular-season finale — he had nine quality starts, pitching six or more innings and allowing three or fewer earned runs.
But he may have saved the best for last. In the SEC Tournament opener, he tossed his only complete game of the season, beating Ole Miss 6-1. He scattered nine hits and struck out a career-high 10.
“I definitely think it was one of my better [starts]. I had a lot of ups and downs like a lot of guys did. I felt like finishing the season that way for me was really good, especially for our team being in that spot. I was pitching with location and command, and velocity was good. [I] threw all four pitches for strikes.
“I’ve wanted to pitch in the tournament since I was like 10, so it was awesome to get the opportunity. Being in front of my hometown fans in Hoover, it definitely was big for me personally.”
“I thought Geoffrey did a tremendous job,” said Alabama coach Mitch Gaspard. “I don’t think we could have asked for a whole lot more.”
It was a difficult season for the Crimson Tide in some unusual ways. Sewell-Thomas Stadium in Tuscaloosa is undergoing a $42.6 million renovation and expansion that won’t be completed until the 2016 season. The Tide worked out a deal to play its home games in Hoover at The Met.
In some ways, it felt like every home game was a road game. Midweek games required a 50-mile trip up and back in the same day. Weekend series required two nights in a hotel.
“The travel was tough, going to the Wynfrey, playing at The Met. It was fun at first but it became a drag, the hour drive up, the hour drive back every home weekend. I think we handled it pretty well, we took it as a challenge. It was fun being around the team as we got a lot of bonding time together.”
Attendance wasn’t spectacular — the Tide averaged 2,761 for its home games, 10th in the SEC and 24th in the country, compared to 2014’s average of 3,643, which was 12th in the country. That, and one of the toughest schedules in the country, perhaps contributed to the Tide’s 32-28 record, 12-18 in the SEC.
“One of the big things for us last season was the ‘Right Field Ragers’ section [at Sewell-Thomas],” Bramblett said. That was a free admission, picnic-style area that had about a 1,000-fan capacity. Rowdy students dominated the area and heckled the visitors and rooted for the Tide.
“Just those extra fans, the students that came out to support us, I guess it kind of gave us extra adrenaline. We didn’t have any of that this year. Not as many students were able to make the hour drive to Hoover. That was one of the biggest things. We didn’t have anything like that this year, which I think made a big impact on us.”
Still, the Tide was fortunate to have a professional stadium an hour up the road to play in, and it was fun for Bramblett to pitch in his hometown.
“That was a lot of fun, especially in the [SEC] tournament. The whole season from that aspect was really cool seeing family and friends after the game, random friends you hadn’t seen in a while. They’d show up and say, ‘Hey it’s great to watch you play.’”
Bramblett has one more year for sure at Alabama. He was drafted late by the Atlanta Braves out of high school and will be draft-eligible after his junior year. But he’s not thinking that far ahead.
“Honestly, I just want our team to win. If that opportunity presents itself, great. But I’m just looking forward to the new stadium and us making some noise next year.”
Heading into the offseason, Bramblett is driven to improve his game. He feels he’s made steady progress ever since he got to Alabama, thanks to pitching coaches Dax Norris and Nathan Kilcrease.
“Honestly, a lot of it is the mental side. Playing in the SEC is one of the hardest conferences and competition there is in the country, day in and day out, whether it’s making the pitch with guys on second and third and two outs or whether it’s getting two quick outs and not having that two-out walk. [It’s] just little things like that I can eliminate so I can elevate my game. Obviously, you can get better at everything, whether it’s velocity or command, pitching behind in counts and throwing your off-speed stuff behind in counts.
“If I elevate those things just a little bit, I can keep getting better.”