Nelson Pitches Tide to Series Win Over Vanderbilt, 8-2



March 20, 2010

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – The University of Alabama baseball team got another strong outing from junior right-hander Jimmy Nelson and juniors Ross Wilson and Josh Rutledge combined for seven RBI as the No. 21 Crimson Tide defeated No. 16 Vanderbilt 8-2 to extend its winning streak to eight straight games.

Nelson (4-0) gave the Tide another solid outing on the mound, limiting the Commodores to two runs and seven hits in 6 2/3 innings for his fourth straight win. He struck out five and walked three before leaving the game after throwing 99 pitches.

Wilson and Rutledge accounted for seven of the eight runs, going a combined 3-for-9 with two runs scored and seven RBI. Wilson put the Crimson Tide on the board with a three-run home run in the third inning and Rutledge broke open close game with a three-run double in the sixth inning to push the Tide’s lead to 7-2.

Junior catcher Brock Bennett was 4-for-4 and scored three runs in the series-clinching win for Alabama.

Wilson ripped a three-run home run over the left field wall to put the Tide in front 3-0 in the bottom of the third inning. Bennett led off the inning with a single to right and moved to second on sophomore center fielder Taylor Dugas’ sacrifice bunt. Rutledge followed with a single to left before Wilson’s three-run homer off VU starter Taylor Hill.

Vanderbilt (15-4, 0-2 SEC) came back with two runs in the top of the fourth to cut the lead to 3-2. Curt Casali drew a leadoff walk and moved to third on Jason Esposito’s double down the left field line. Connor Harrell followed with a two-run single up the middle to drive in two runs. The two-run single snapped Nelson’s consecutive scoreless innings streak at 16 1/3 innings over his last four starts.

Alabama (16-1, 2-0 SEC) got one run back in the bottom of the fourth inning to extend its lead to 4-2. Junior left fielder John David Smelser stroked a leadoff double to right center and sophomore DH Jon Kelton followed with a bunt single down the first base line. Smelser took third on Kelton’s bunt single and scored on first baseman Riley Reynolds throwing error to give Alabama a 4-2 lead.

Hill (3-1) left the game in fourth inning after he allowed four runs and eight hits in 3 2/3 innings. He added two strikeouts and two walks. Drew Hayes came on with two on and two out and got Rutledge to ground out to end the inning.

Rutledge iced the game with a bases-clearing double in the sixth inning that put the Tide up 7-2. Kelton drew a one out walk and Bennett lined a single to right field to put runners at first and second. Dugas walked to load the bases before Rutledge broke the game open with a three-run double on the ninth pitch of the at-bat against Hayes.

Nelson left the game after allowing a two-out single to Anthony Gomez and a walk to Brian Harris in the seventh inning. Junior left-hander David Head came on and struck out pinch-hitter Anthony Harris to end the threat. Head worked 2 1/3 innings and allowed two hits with two strikeouts and one walk.

Alabama added an insurance run in the eighth inning to make the final 8-2. Bennett led off the inning with a single to center, his fourth hit of the game, and later scored on Wilson’s ground out.

Alabama and Vanderbilt will wrap up the series with a 2:05 p.m. (CST) on Sunday, March 21 and the game will be televised regionally by Comcast Sports Southeast.

*Alabama has equaled the best start in school history with its 16-1 record through 17 games. The 1997 team also began the year with a 16-1 record and ran that streak to a 20-1 record before a loss at Florida.  

*The Crimson Tide improved to 12-0 at home this season and has won 18 straight home games dating back to last season.

*Alabama extended its winning streak to eight straight games following its 8-2 win over Vanderbilt on Saturday. The Tide has had two eight-game winning streaks this season, including a season-opening eight-game winning streak from Feb. 20-March 6.

*The Crimson Tide has won seven straight games against the Commodores dating back to the 2008 season. Alabama has won the last three series with Vanderbilt, including a three-game sweep in Nashville last season.

*Alabama has now won 14 straight SEC home series against SEC Eastern Division teams. The streak dates back to the 2005 season.

*Alabama has not allowed a first-inning run this season and owns a 16-0 scoring advantage in the opening frame in the first 17 games. 

*The Crimson Tide held a 3-0 advantage after three innings on Saturday and now owns a 52-7 scoring edge in the first three innings this season.

*Alabama turned a season-high three double plays.

* Junior right-hander Jimmy Nelson had his scoreless innings streak snapped at 16 1/3 innings on Saturday. He allowed two runs in the fourth inning in the win over Vanderbilt. Nelson’s streak spanned four starts against Illinois-Chicago (1 1/3 IP), Charleston (6 IP), Stony Brook (6 IP) and Vanderbilt (3 IP).

*Junior second baseman Ross Wilson’s three-run home run gave the Crimson Tide a 3-0 lead in the third inning. In his last eight games, Wilson has four home runs and 16 RBI. He had no home runs and five RBI in the first eight games.

*Junior catcher Brock Bennett went 4-for-4 and scored three runs on Saturday. The three runs scored and four hits both match his career high.

*Junior shortstop Josh Rutledge went 2-for-5 with one run scored and three RBI on Saturday to extend his hitting streak to 12 games.

Head Coach Mitch Gaspard
On the victory:
“Well we got a good start out of Jimmy Nelson, he really set the tone for us on the mound. Wilson hit the three-run homer and that really ignited the offense. After that we put good offensive pressure on them and started to put better at bats together at that point. Jimmy did a nice job with his location and his composure all game. We wanted to go right at 100 pitches and he threw 99. David Head came in and did a nice job. In the ninth inning he had a little this and that going on, but overall, it was a good game. Defensively we did some real good things. Brock Bennett, what can’t you say about that guy? He just continues to deliver and that’s contagious so we are just continuing to play good baseball right now."

On Coach Bunn:
“He’s obviously made a really big difference on this pitching staff. I think it’s mostly from a confidence standpoint. The tempo and flow that we want to pitch with has affected everything, I think you can attribute a lot of our good defensive play to the tempo of the game. Our motto is ‘get on the mound and throw strikes and work quickly.’ You see many times the signal is in to the catcher and on to the pitcher before the batter even steps into the box. More than anything that sets a demeanor, even demands a demeanor from our pitchers. When you are pitching well it’s growing and contagious. That’s how it’s all going right now.”

On Jimmy Nelson:
“With Jimmy, I think that experience has really been the key. I think he’s really matured as a pitcher. Obviously, Kyle has also done some things with him that have been really good for him. He’s been slowing him down. Even on days like today, when things get frantic, Brock (Bennett) or Jake (Smith) will go talk to him and calm him down. That’s been a big part of it. He’s always had the stuff and now it’s just getting better. That’s three great starts in a row for him.”

Junior RHP Jimmy Nelson
On his night:
“I didn’t really have my command like I'd like to, but I got great run support, eight runs or whatever it was, that helps a lot.”

On what’s changed in his pitching:
“I’m a lot tougher than I used to be I think. When guys get on, I buckle down and make the pitches I need to. I just have more confidence in myself, and I have the confidence of my coaches and teammates. It all works well.”

On whether Coach Bunn was a big part of that transformation:
“It’s been a lot of Coach Bunn. He works us harder than any of us have ever been worked before, and we all kind of formed a trust for him. The pitchers saw how hard the position players were working and the position players saw how hard we were working and I think a mutual respect really developed all offseason. It made the team 100 times better.”

On whether his stuff has changed at all:
“It’s really just a mental thing. I really have the same stuff I’ve had since my freshman year, but like coach said, confidence means everything. I used to spend a lot of time and energy worrying about what was going to happen instead of just pitching to the guy in front of me.”

On how good defense can help:
“I was just scared and timid that someone was going to hit it. Now I want them to hit it. We turned two, three double plays out there today. That really picks up a pitcher. It’s a pitcher’s best friend out there. I just let them hit it and then they do the work to make me look good.”

Junior Second Baseman Ross Wilson
On his home run:
“I think that was big for us. We spent some time talking about getting an early lead since we won yesterday. So I wanted to get us on a roll, and I got a pitch to hit and I hit it.”

On his good play of late:
“I kind of got going over the last couple series, now I’m just trying to keep it going. I got to take advantage of a mistake early on.”

On the home-run pitch:
“It was a changeup. I’ve been seeing a whole lot of fastballs this weekend so the off-speed was something I had to adjust to. I got around on that one, but I imagine we’ll be seeing more and more off-speed and breaking balls during SEC play.”

On Jimmy Nelson:
“I’ve always been a big fan of Jimmy. In live batting practice I think I’ve only hit one ball hard off of him in my whole career. He’s always had the stuff, and I’m glad things are working out well for him out there.”

Junior Shortstop Josh Rutledge
On his nine-pitch at-bat:
“He threw me a lot of fastballs and I thought I was on a lot of them, and he got my two strikes. Then I just started to fight some pitches off. He finally left one up and I took advantage of it.”

On how the team is playing:
“We’re clicking on all cylinders. I think we’re playing great, our defense is playing great and the pitching has been outstanding. That gives our hitters more confidence at the plate, knowing that we aren’t going to give up a lot of runs. 

On the number of double plays:
“It has a lot to do with the pitching. We know they are going to throw strikes and that keeps us from being on our heels, so when we get the opportunities, some double plays are going to be made.”