Alabama entered May with a losing Southeastern Conference record, and the situation appeared even more dire when coach Brad Bohannon was fired amid a gambling scandal.
The Crimson Tide’s fortunes have been on the rise heading into June. Alabama (40-19) has weathered those troubles and played well enough since Bohannon’s firing to earn the first NCAA regional site in Tuscaloosa since 2006, hosting Boston College, Troy and Nicholls State starting Friday.
“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.”
The mindset and maturity of a veteran team has helped.
Alabama had lost its first four SEC series and was swept by LSU on a weekend that ultimately led to Bohannon’s downfall.
On May 4, Alabama fired Bohannon three days after Ohio gambling officials reported suspicious wagering on his team shortly before the opener at LSU. 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 the Cincinnati Reds’ Great American Ball Park indicated the person placing the bets was communicating with Bohannon at the time.
Starting pitcher Luke Holman was a late scratch because of back issues before that game and Alabama lost 8-6.
Two members of the Cincinnati Bearcats’ baseball staff have since also been fired. Both cases were connected to Bert Neff of Mooresville, Indiana, multiple people have told The Associated Press. Neff’s son is a member of the Bearcats team.
For Alabama, the season had hit bottom for a program that has endured some lean years since going to the College World Series three times from 1996-99.
Then came the rise. The Tide won seven of their last nine SEC regular-season games and added two victories in the league tournament.
It’s the most wins for the Tide since going 42-25 in 2010, which also was the last time Alabama won a regional.
The team is led by second-team All-SEC outfielder Andrew Pinckney, leading hitter Tommy Seidl and top starter Holman. Holman 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 Alabama baseball’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 postseason prospects 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 Tide players insist the team was playing well early on even if the wins weren’t coming. The rough stretch included one-run losses to Florida, Kentucky and Arkansas.
Then came Bohannon’s firing. But the team rallied with series wins over Vanderbilt, Texas A&M and Mississippi. 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.