Smith Sends Tide to SEC Tournament with 4-2 win 11 Innings

ROLLTIDEDOTCOM
ROLLTIDEDOTCOM

ROLLTIDEDOTCOM

May 21, 2010

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Alabama rode the bat and right arm of senior third baseman/pitcher Jake Smith to a berth in the 2010 Southeastern Conference Tournament with a 4-2 series-clinching win over Tennessee on Friday night at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.

Alabama (33-21, 14-15 SEC) clinched its SEC Tournament berth with its third extra-inning win of the season and Georgia’s resounding 20-0 win over Kentucky in Athens, Ga. Alabama will either be the No. 7 or No. 8 seed in next week’s tournament at Regions Park in Hoover. 

“This was one those team wins,” Alabama head coach Mitch Gaspard said following the Tide’s win. “We just found a way to get the job done. I thought (junior shortstop Josh) Rutledge made some great defensive plays. We got good pitching. Jake’s home run was the key. It was just a good team win all the way around.

“The last two nights you could sense that in the dugout. The guys are energized and confident and playing well. I am happy for our team, they have been through a lot this year. We stayed the course and let the game come back our way when we could have shut it down, but we didn’t. Now, we are getting some good fortune and some good play coming along with that.”

Smith hit a two-run, game-winning home run in the 11th inning off losing pitcher Matt Ramsey to give the Tide a 4-2 lead. Senior first baseman Clay Jones drew a leadoff walk before Smith launched a fly ball to left field that just cleared the left field wall to give the Tide the lead.

“I thought it was a home run and then I saw the left fielder and the wall, so had to talk to it a little bit  to get it over the wall,” Smith said as his home run just cleared the wall in left. “The main thing is we came away with the win and it was a great team win.”

The right-hander pitched a scoreless 10th and 11th inning for his first win of the season. The Shannon, Ala., native entered the game in the 10th inning in relief of junior right-hander Nathan Kilcrease.

He struck out Josh Liles for the first out before issuing the first of three walks in the inning to Zach Osborne. After Osborne stole second, pinch-hitter Cody Stubbs grounded out to chase the winning run to third. Smith then walked P.J. Polk and Charley Thurber to load the bases before Cody Hawn fouled out to third baseman Cal Tinsley to end the threat.

Smith pitched around a one-out walk in the 11th inning for the win. Blake Forsythe lined out to Tinsley at third to open the inning and Liles lined out to sophomore center fielder Taylor Dugas, who made a diving catch in center to end the game.

“Pitching was a different story,” Smith added. “Fortunately they hit some balls hard right at our guys we made some great defensive plays, especially Cal, Rutledge and Dugas.”

Smith (1-1) worked two innings and did not allowed a run or hit in his relief outing. He walked four and struck out one.

“It was a big night for Jake to hit the home run and get the win on the mound,” Gaspard added. “Hopefully that may trigger him for the next two or three weeks as we hit postseason.”

Ramsey (6-2) was the tough-luck loser for the Volunteers. He allowed three runs on five hits in six innings of relief with eight strikeouts and one walk.

Both starters were superb on Friday night.

Kilcrease went nine innings and allowed two runs on six hits with four strikeouts and no walks. He threw 122 pitches in the no decision. UT starter Steven Gruver pitched five innings and allowed one run on four hits with five strikeouts and one walk.

Kilcrease came within three outs of his second straight complete-game victory before Hawn lined a leadoff home run over the left-center field wall to tie the game at 2-2 in the bottom of the ninth.

Alabama had taken a 2-1 lead in the eighth inning on Rutledge’s single up the middle that scored freshman right fielder Andrew Miller with the go-ahead run. 

Miller was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning and moved to third base on Dugas’ hit-and-run single up the middle. Rutledge then delivered the key run-scoring single to give Alabama its first lead at 2-1. 

The Crimson Tide could not extend the lead as it left two runners on base in the eighth and wasted a leadoff double by junior DH David Kindred in the ninth as UT rallied to force extra innings.

Tennessee (30-25, 12-17 SEC) had taken a 1-0 lead in the third inning when Liles reached on a leadoff double down the left field line and moved around to scored on consecutive infield ground outs by Osborne and Cody Grisham to take the Vols first lead of the series.

Alabama tied the game at 1-1 on back-to-back doubles by junior left fielder Jon Kelton and Miller in the top of the fifth inning.

Alabama and Tennessee wrap up the series and the regular season with 12 p.m. (CDT) at Lindsey Nelson Stadium. 

The game will be televised by Comcast Sports Southeast (CSS) with Matt Stewart and Rusty Ensor calling the action. The game will also be available on the internet at www.ESPN3.com. Alabama is expected to send sophomore left-hander Adam Morgan (13 GS, 5-4, 6.38 ERA) to the mound against Tennessee lefty Bryan Morgado (14 G, 2-7, 7.32 ERA).

GAME NOTES
* Alabama (32-21, 13-15 SEC) clinched its sixth straight SEC Tournament berth with its win over Tennessee. Alabama is tied with LSU for seventh place in the league standings heading into Saturday’s regular season finale. An LSU win over Mississippi State on Saturday would give the Tigers the No. 7 seed. Alabama could claim the No. 7 seed with a win over Tennessee and an LSU loss. The No. 7 seed will play Auburn (No. 2 seed and SEC Western Division champion) on Wednesday, May 26, at 9:30 a.m. (CDT). The No. 8 seed will play Florida (No. 1 seed and SEC Champion) at 4:30 p.m.

*Senior third baseman Jake Smith hit a game-winning two-run home run in the 11th inning and threw two scoreless innings on the mound for his first win of the season. Smith’s 11th inning homer was his 11th home run of the season and 10th home run since April 10. He has hit safely in 20 of his last 23 games for the Tide.

*Junior right-hander Nathan Kilcrease held the Volunteers to two runs and six hits in nine innings on Friday, marking the fourth straight game an Alabama starter had pitched nine complete innings. He added four strikeouts and did not issue a walk.

*The UA pitching staff has made a huge turnaround in the last five games, dating back to the series opener with Mississippi on May 14. Over the last 45 innings, UA pitchers have allowed only 10 runs (nine earned) and 27 hits with 37 strikeouts and 12 walks.

*Alabama starters are 3-0 with a 2.00 ERA and three complete games in the last four games. The starters have worked 36 innings and allowed nine runs (8 ER) on 23 hits with 30 strikeouts and six walks.

*Sophomore center fielder Taylor Dugas went 2-for-5 in the win over Tennessee and has now reached base safely in 43 consecutive games, dating back to March 13. For the season, he has reached base in 53 of the Tide’s 54 games.
 
*Junior shortstop Josh Rutledge went 1-for-5 with a go-ahead RBI single in the eighth inning on Friday. The Cullman, Ala., native has hit safely in 28 of 29 SEC games this season, including a 20-game SEC hitting streak. He has hit safely in all 24 games away from Tuscaloosa this season, including a 22-game road hitting streak. Overall, he has hit safely in his last 12 games.

*Rutledge leads the Tide with 56 RBI this season, including 30 in SEC play. He has collected 23 RBI in his last 14 SEC games, dating back to the Mississippi State series on April 23-25. In his first 15 SEC games, Rutledge had only seven RBI.

*Junior left fielder Jon Kelton was 2-for-4 with one double and one run scored on Friday. He is 4-for-6 in the UT series after two games.