Alabama shook off slow start in SEC, coach’s firing to host NCAA baseball regional

AP file photo by Vasha Hunt / Alabama pitcher Garrett McMillan, pictured, said the team had to focus on what it could control after a rough start to the season that included coach Brad Bohannon being fired in the wake of a gambling scandal.

The University of Alabama baseball team entered May with a losing record in Southeastern Conference play, and the situation appeared even more dire when coach Brad Bohannon was fired amid a gambling scandal.

The Crimson Tide's fortunes were rising by the time June rolled around.

They have weathered those troubles and played well enough since Bohannon's dismissal to earn the first NCAA tournament regional in Tuscaloosa since 2006.

Alabama (40-19), the No. 16 overall seed in the 64-team tourney, will host Boston College (35-18), Nicholls (34-22) and Troy (39-20) starting Friday. Boston College and Troy meet at 3 p.m. Eastern, with Alabama and Nicholls set for 7 in the double-elimination event, where only the last team standing will move on to next week's super regionals.

After a challenging stretch off the field, the Tide have proven capable on it by pushing forward. The mindset and maturity of a veteran team has helped.

"I would definitely say there were some people that were close to Bohannon," pitcher Garrett McMillan said. "It definitely hurt them a little bit, but at the same time there's nothing you can do about it. You've got to keep going and just forget about that. We can't control what anybody else does."

Alabama lost its first four SEC series this year and was swept by host LSU on a weekend that ultimately led to Bohannon's downfall.

The school fired Bohannon on May 4, three days after Ohio gambling officials reported suspicious wagering on his team shortly before the series opener in Baton Rouge. The school didn't disclose specifics on why he was fired, but ESPN later cited multiple anonymous sources in reporting that surveillance video from the sportsbook located at Great American Ball Park, the home of Major League Baseball's Cincinnati Reds, indicated the person placing the bets was communicating with Bohannon at the time. Luke Holman, Alabama's top starting pitcher, was a late scratch before that game against the Tigers, and Alabama lost 8-6.

Even in the rough start to this season, it was a new low for a program that has endured some lean years since going to the College World Series three times from 1996 to 1999.

Then came the rise. The Tide won seven of their last nine SEC regular-season games and added two victories in the league tournament last week in Hoover, Alabama, giving the program its most wins in a single season since going 42-25 in 2010, which also was the last time Alabama won a regional.

The team is led by All-SEC second-team outfielder Andrew Pinckney, leading hitter Tommy Seidl and Holman, the team's ace who spoke last week about the reason he missed that LSU game.

"I thought I was going to start the whole day and I had a couple of back issues," he said during the SEC tournament. "And I just didn't feel good enough to start that day."

Bohannon's firing wasn't the Alabama baseball program's first brush with controversy. He replaced Greg Goff, who was fired after one season in 2017 amid reports that he had violated NCAA rules by telling some returning players their scholarship money would not be renewed.

This time, the controversy occurred in the middle of the season when Alabama's prospects of playing beyond the SEC tournament already looked shaky.

"Sometimes that stuff kind of helps you focus a little bit," interim head coach Jason Jackson said after the opening SEC tournament win over Kentucky.

Jackson and Alabama players insist the team was playing well early on, even if the wins weren't coming. The rough stretch included one-run league losses to Florida, Kentucky and Arkansas, and then came Bohannon's firing.

Still, the Tide rallied with series wins against Vanderbilt, Texas A&M and Ole Miss, and the result is a regional in Tuscaloosa for a team that didn't make the NCAA field last season.

"It's been something that's been on the minds of everyone in the locker room since before the season started," shortstop Jim Jarvis said. "Then as the season's going along, you're kind of wondering where you're at and if you're going to make the postseason.

"For it all to work out the way it did, it's just kind of insane. It's hard to explain, but everyone in the locker room is just extremely happy and grateful for this opportunity that we've got right now."

It just took a bumpy ride to get there.

Googins out, too

CINCINNATI — University of Cincinnati baseball coach Scott Googins resigned Wednesday, two weeks after two members of his staff were dismissed after an investigation into possible NCAA violations.

Googins was 143-156 with one NCAA tourney berth in six seasons with the Bearcats, who finished 24-33 this year. They won the American Athletic Conference tournament in 2019 for the program's first NCAA tourney appearance since 1974.

"I want to thank Coach Googins for his time and commitment to the Bearcats," Cincinnati athletic director John Cunningham said in a release announcing the move.

Last week, Cincinnati announced assistant coach Kyle Sprague and director of operations Andy Nagel were relieved of their duties on May 17, about a week after the school opened an investigation into possible NCAA violations.

Cincinnati did not provide details of the investigation, but last week two people familiar with the investigations told AP the firings were related to contact the staffers had with the same Indiana man gaming regulators believe made suspicious wagers on an Alabama-LSU baseball game in late April while in contact with the Tide's head coach at the time.