TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — After the dust settled following Alabama baseball’s opening weekend in Sewell-Thomas Stadium against McNeese State, an unlikely hero emerged as someone that contributed to the Crimson Tide’s three-game sweep of the Cowboys.
This past weekend, it was sophomore third baseman Zane Denton’s world, and we were all just living in it.
Denton had a relatively quiet game at the plate in Alabama’s 10-6 opening-day win on Friday afternoon, hitting 1-for-4 with a run and an RBI. However, on Saturday and Sunday Denton quickly turned up the heat.
On Saturday at The Joe — Denton’s 20th birthday, no less — the young third baseman hit 3-for-4 with one run and two RBIs. In the final at-bat of the game with the game tied in the bottom of the ninth, the sophomore cranked a solo walk-off home run over the right-field wall and into the student section filled ecstatic Right Field Ragers.
As Denton crossed the plate for the game-winning run, it was clear that a new name was soon to spread among Crimson Tide baseball fans.
According to the man himself, Denton was just trying to do what he could to give his team the win after a hard-fought, low-scoring game.
“The energy was definitely down a little bit," Denton said. "They had some good pitching earlier in the day but I knew once we got one run that momentum would change a little bit. […] I just tried to do what I could."
On Sunday, it was much of the same. In his four at-bats, Denton once again registered three hits. Down 4-3 in the bottom of the fifth, Denton hit a laser over the right-field wall for a two-run go-ahead home run, bringing himself and sophomore right fielder Owen Diodati across the plate to give the team a 5-4 lead — a lead which McNeese State would not be able to re-take.
Alabama coach Brad Bohannon said that he and his team never stopped believing in what Denton could contribute to the Crimson Tide.
"He’s a guy we've always really believed in," Bohannon said. "Really liked him in the recruiting process and played him last year a little more than maybe than he was ready for. He's a really good player and just really happy for him.”
Through three games, Denton leads Alabama in batting average at .583 with seven hits in 12 at-bats. He is tied with Diodati for most home runs on the team with two and is second in both runs and RBIs with four and five, respectively. He also leads the team in total bases with 13.
The same could not be said for Denton last season. In the Crimson Tide’s abbreviated 17-game season that was cut short due to COVID-19, Denton was last on the team in batting average, registering .220 among players that averaged at least two at-bats per game. In 41 at-bats, Denton only had nine hits, five runs and nine RBIs — along with no home runs.
Bohannon is very aware of Denton’s improvement since last season, remarking after Sunday’s game that despite his low output in 2020, he and his team never stopped believing in him.
“It’s been really neat for Zane,” Bohannon said. “[He] came in and did some good things his freshman fall and got last spring and he didn’t really perform over a four-week period and went to summer baseball and just had an abysmal summer. Abysmal. I think he hit at .130 or something which is really hard to do — like, really hard.
“It just shows you how mental baseball is because we’ve never doubted his physical talent, but he came back and got in a good place and had a great fall and a great preseason and anybody that’s been around here the last six months I’m not surprised at all that he’s doing well — he’s a good player.”
Diodati, much like Denton, knows what it’s like to go from zero to hero. Last season as a true freshman, Diodati finished second on the team in home runs with five and led the team in RBIs with 22, batting .309.
Diodati leads the teams in RBIs once again this season with six thanks to a sixth-inning grand slam on Sunday afternoon that sealed the victory for Alabama. However, he is happy to see Denton get the recognition that he feels he deserves after such an impressive weekend.
“I’ve known since I got here how good of a player he was,” Diodati said. “I think it was only a matter of time before he started doing this and I don’t think he’s surprising any of his teammates by how he came out to start this season, but he works extremely hard and he’s just a great teammate whether things are going good for him or things aren’t he’s on the top step of the dugout.
“It’s awesome to see him do what he’s done and kinda having that crazy opening weekend it’s just really nice to see. Obviously [he] was really important in us getting three wins this weekend and I couldn’t be more happy for him.”