Ex-Viking fans 10, has no-hitter for 5

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 21, 2002

Taylor Tankersley, an Alabama freshman who starred at Warren Central, follows through on a pitch against Georgia State Wednesday night. The left-hander who led the Vikings to the Class 5A state championship last year struck out 10 and carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning in his collegiate debut.(The Vicksburg Post/DAN MURPHY)

[02/21/02] TUSCALOOSA, Ala. Taylor Tankersley’s warm-up song did not start until the top of the second inning.

By that time, the University of Alabama freshman had already started to win the hearts of 4,966 at Sewell-Thomas Stadium.

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Tankersley, making his first collegiate start in the Crimson Tide’s fifth game of the season, carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning and finished with 10 strikeouts in earning a 4-2 victory over Georgia State.

“You always come out to Sweet Home Alabama’ then they play your song in the second inning,” said Tankersley, who was joined by his father, Tom, and sister Erin, as well as several Warren Central parents in the crowd. “It doesn’t even matter. You get out here and it’s like I didn’t even feel the ball in the first inning.”

Tankersley, who warmed up each game at Warren Central to AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long,” felt right at home from the start.

Tankersley struck out Kevin Kawasaki on a fastball, then fielded a bunt to throw out Sean Fitzgerald, then got Dustin Phillips looking on a biting curveball to end the first of what was the start of five dominating innings.

“He threw a great game and that’s all you can expect for his first time out,” said senior catcher Jeremy Brown, a preseason All-American and a finalist last year for the Johnny Bench Award, which is given to the nation’s best college catcher. “He hit most of his spots and pitched a great game. We’re all proud of him.”

The two things missing were not baseball-related. Two of his biggest fans, his mother Dana and sister Abby, were in Louisiana because Abby was ill.

Tankersley said he didn’t even know the locals had made the trip until after the game.

As was the case in his stellar high school career, Tankersley zoned everything out except the batter.

“We hoped he would go out and throw strikes and keep his composure when runners got on, because all young guys struggle a little out of the stretch,” Alabama (5-0) coach Jim Wells said. “He pitched magnificently all night; just outstanding.”

His 10 strikeouts are the most by any Tide pitcher this season, and he did not allow his first hit until the top of the sixth.

Holding a 3-0 lead going into the sixth inning, Garrett Greer hit a seeing-eye single behind the pitcher’s mound. He struck out the next batter, then gave up a single before coaxing a double play to end the threat.

Scott McClanahan’s second-inning two-run home run gave Alabama a 2-0 lead after the second and the Tide added a run in the bottom of the fourth on a Carlos Sosa home run.

“It shows a lot when a young kid can get in a game and concentrate like that,” Wells said. “We got a lot of guys pitching better in games then we do in practice.”

Problems arose in the top of the seventh and eventually ended Tankersley’s night.

He hit lefty Josh Vandiver in the head on a two-strike pitch giving Georgia State only its fourth baserunner.

“With two strikes to a lefty, you don’t want to leave it out over the plate,” Tankersley said. “It was supposed to be up and in, but it got too up.”

Two pitches later, Stephen Burroughs hit an outside fastball over the left-field fence to pull the Panthers (2-2) to within a run. Wells pulled Tankersley in favor of freshman Eric Mennen.

“You hate to smile after you’ve just given up a bomb and been yanked out of the game,” Tankersley said. “I was happy with the way I threw, though. I was pumped.”

Mennen closed the game with 22/3 scoreless innings and the Tide added a run in the bottom of the seventh for a 4-2 lead.

Tankersley, who threw 66 strikes out of 84 total pitches and had thrown only 27 pitches through three innings, found out he was starting on Sunday after a win over Georgia Southern.

His role, up to then, was in the bullpen. Until, of course, he saw Wells in the tunnel under the clubhouse after the game.

“I was kind of frustrated because I had been warming up in the pen that night and wanted to get in,” Tankersley said. “Coach told me to keep my head up and said your time’s coming.’ I said, thanks coach.

“He said, Yeah, Wednesday, you’ve got the ball. The smile went all across my face.”

After Wednesday’s performance, it was Wells who was smiling.

When asked if Tankersley earned a spot in the starting rotation on a pitcher-heavy Tide roste, he said, “He certainly helped himself tonight by the way he pitched and the fact that he is left-handed,” Wells said with a grin. “He’ll have plenty more opportunities. If he can continue to pitch like that, he’d have an outstanding shot at getting on the weekend rotation.”

Tankersley said he’s going to use this win as a building block and take any or every role tossed at him.

“We have such an unbelievable staff that whatever my role is, I want to fill it,” Tankersley said. “Whatever coach wants me to do, that’s why I am here.”