TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The 16th ranked University of Alabama offense played small ball on Saturday afternoon at Sewell-Thomas Stadium and then left the rest up to sophomore right-hander Casey Kebodeaux.
Alabama built a four-run lead in the middle innings with five infield and bunt singles en route to a 9-1 win over the McNeese State Cowboys.
Kebodeaux (2-0) kept the McNeese State hitters in check during his 94-pitch gem. He allowed one run and six hits over eight innings, with three walks and four strikeouts. The eight-inning stint is the longest of his career and the longest by an Alabama starter in 2007.
The Mandeville, La., native retired nine straight Cowboy batters in the middle innings and escaped a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the seventh as he struck out Thomas Zabasky and then got Deron Minor to roll into a double play to end the inning the only serious threat by the Cowboys.
"Kebodeaux pitched well today," Alabama head coach Jim Wells said. "He mixes his pitches well. He has pitched well so far and we hope he continues to develop."
Alabama (11-2) played small ball through the first seven innings using a series of hit-and-runs and five infield or bunt singles to build a 5-1 lead.
Sophomore first baseman Alex Avila led the Crimson Tide's 14-hit attack with three hits, including a pair of doubles. Freshman Brandon May (Marietta, Ga.) also added a career-high three hits. Freshman Jake Smith (Shannon), who had missed the last five games with a knee injury, returned to the lineup on Saturday with a three-hit, five RBI performance, including his first career grand slam in the eighth inning.
"Today was a much better day," Wells said. "We couldn't solve the left-hander early in the game and it was nice to welcome Jake Smith back to the lineup. We used a few hit-and-runs and a safety squeeze to score some runs."
MSU's Chris Denton (1-2) held Alabama to two runs through four innings before the Crimson Tide finally solved the lefty. He allowed five runs and 11 hits in six innings for the loss.
Alabama took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning when Avila ripped a two-out double to left field and scored when MSU third baseman Brad Becker dropped an infield pop up that would have been the third out.
McNeese State (2-12) tied the game in the top of the second inning when Joe Hulett doubled, moved to third on a wild pitch and scored on Zabasky's sacrifice fly to left.
Alabama took the lead for good in the bottom of the fourth inning to take a 2-1 lead. Elvin Vargas drew a one-out walk and moved to third base on May's hit-and-run single through the right side of the infield. Greg Paiml then laid down an RBI bunt single to score Vargas with the go-ahead run.
The Crimson Tide plated two runs in the fifth inning to take a 4-1 lead. Matthes smashed a one-out single to center and stole second base. Smith followed with a two-out base hit to left to make it 3-1. Vargas reached on an infield single that struck the pitcher's glove and May followed with a double in front of a diving center fielder to score Vargas with the 4-1 lead.
Alabama played small ball again in the sixth inning to increase its lead to 5-1. Salem and Texada led off the inning with back-to-back bunt singles to put runners at first second. After Avila flied out to center, both runners stole a base before Matthes' drove in Salem with a sacrifice fly to center.
Smith slapped a 2-0 fastball down the left field line to cap the scoring with his first career grand slam in the eighth inning to make the final 9-1.
The two teams conclude this three-game series Sunday, March 4 at 2:06 p.m. (CST). The game will be televised live by WVUA Sports (Comcast Channel 4, DirecTV 23 in Tuscaloosa area). Senior right-hander Bernard Robert (2 G, 1 GS, 1-0, 2.00 ERA) will pitch for the Crimson Tide, while the Cowboys will counter with junior right-hander Derek Blacksher (3 GS, 0-2, 4.50 ERA).
*Alabama extended its winning streak to a season-high five games today against McNeese State.
*Sophomore first baseman Alex Avila's (Pembroke Pines, Fla.) two-out double in the first inning snapped a streak of 21 consecutive singles by the UA offense, dating back to the fifth inning of the UAB game on Feb. 28. Avila went 3-for-5 and scored one run in the game to extend his hitting streak to five games. He has also scored in five straight games and reached base in eight straight games.
*Sophomore left fielder Kent Matthes (Orlando, Fla.) went 1-for-3 with two runs scored and one RBI in Saturday's win over McNeese State to extend his hitting streak to five games and his on-base streak to 13 consecutive games.
*Freshman third baseman Brandon May (Marietta, Ga.) had a career-high three hits in the win over McNeese State. He has reached base in nine of the 10 games he has played this season. He finished the game 3-for-3 with one RBI and one walk.
*Senior center fielder Emeel Salem (Mountain Brook) has scored a run in all 13 games this season. The 13-game streak is the longest in school history. Salem went 1-for-5 in Saturday's win and kept his streak alive with a run in the sixth inning.
*Freshman designated hitter Jake Smith (Shannon) returned to the lineup on Saturday after missing the last five games with a knee injury. Smith went 2-for-5 with two runs, one home run and five RBI, including his second home run of the season and first grand slam, in the eighth inning. He extended his hitting streak to six games with an RBI single in the fifth inning.
*Junior Elvin Vargas (New York, N.Y.) got the start in right field today and went 1-for-2 and scored a run to extend his hitting streak to three games.
*Sophomore Ryan Rhoden (Tuscaloosa) had his nine-game hitting streak snapped with an 0-for-4 game on Saturday.
*Sophomore Tommy Hunter (Indianapolis, Ind.) threw a perfect ninth inning and recorded one strikeout in his 12-pitch relief stint on Saturday.
*Alabama has scored in the first inning in seven of its first 13 games.