LeBlanc Fans Nine as Tide Eliminates Arkansas, 4-3



HOOVER, Ala.  -- The No. 6 University of Alabama junior left-hander Wade LeBlanc was masterful over seven shutout innings and the Crimson Tide offense played a little small ball in the seventh inning to snap a scoreless tie to lift UA to a 4-3 win over No. 14 Arkansas in an elimination game at the 2006 Southeastern Conference Tournament at the Hoover Met on Thursday afternoon.

Alabama (40-18) advances into Friday's 6:30 p.m. (CT) against the loser Thursday night's Ole Miss-LSU game.  The game will be televised by FSN South.

Arkansas (38-19) was eliminated from the SEC tourney.  Alabama has eliminated Arkansas three times from the SEC tourney, including each of the last three years.

Alabama earned its 13th 40-win season in school history and ninth in 12 years under head coach Jim Wells.

LeBlanc (10-0) remained unbeaten on the season and he held Arkansas to just five hits in seven scoreless innings.  He walked two batters and added nine strikeouts to move to within two of tying the Alabama single-season record of 118 strikeouts set by Bobby Sprowl in 1977.

"It was a well pitched game," Alabama head coach Jim Wells said.  "LeBlanc certainly pitched well.  We were waiting for the offense to kick in, but the starting pitching certainly gave us a shot."

The Lake Charles, La., native pitched out of jams in the third, fifth and sixth innings.  He struck out Matt Willard to end the fifth inning and stranded two base runners.  One inning later, he stranded runners at second and third when he struck out Danny Hamblin and David Hum to end the Hogs best scoring opportunity.

Alabama continued its offensive struggles against Arkansas.  The Crimson Tide managed only four hits through six  innings and left the bases loaded in the fifth as the game remained scoreless.

But in the seventh, Alabama turned to small ball and scored four runs on three hits and three sacrifice to snap a scoreless tie and take a 4-0 lead.

Arkansas right-hander Darryl Maday also took a shutout into the seventh inning but left the game after a allowing a lead off single to Kent Matthes.

Maday (2-2) allowed one run and five hits in six-plus innings for the loss.  He walked three and struck out four.

Matthes and Brandon Belcher led off the frame with back-to-back singles, with Matthes taking third base on Belcher's single to center field.  Greg Paiml then reached on an infield single that deflected into foul territory off the glove of third baseman Blake Parker as Matthes scored the first run of the game on the play.

Emeel Salem then laid down a sacrifice bunt and was called safe at first base when Danny Hamblin dropped the ball.  Belcher scored on the error to make it 2-0 and Paiml moved from first to third when the ball rolled into foul territory.

The bunting continued as Matt Downs laid down a safety squeeze to score Paiml and give the Crimson Tide a 3-0 lead.

It was Downs 11th sacrifice bunt of the season, leaving him one shy of the UA single-season record.

Alex Avila's deep fly ball moved Salem to third and Downs to second, before backup catcher David Ferazza laid down another safety squeeze for the Tide's third sac bunt of the inning -- an unofficial school record -- to score Salem from third base as the Tide extended the lead to 4-0.

Arkansas made it a one-run game in the eighth on David Hum's two-out, three-run home run off right-hander Jordan Davis.

Sophomore right-hander David Robertson then retired all four batters he faced, including three strikeouts for his 10th save of the year.


*The start of today's game was delayed one hour and 29 minutes due to a lengthy first game between No. 2 seed Kentucky and No. 3 seed Georgia.  Georgia eliminated Kentucky with a 16-10 win in a game that lasted almost four hours.  The two teams combined for an SEC Tournament record 37 hits.  UK used nine different pitchers in the loss.

*Alabama posted its 13th, 40-win season in school history with its 4-3 win over Arkansas.  Alabama's 40-win seasons have come in 1981 (41-15-1), 1986 (43-20), 1991 (42-20), 1995 (42-23), 1996 (50-19), 1997 (56-14), 1998 (46-18), 1999 (53-16), 2000 (41-14), 2002 (51-15), 2005 (40-23) and 2006 (40-19).

*Salem's two-out single in the third inning was his first career SEC Tournament hit.  Salem was 0-for-15 in his previous four SEC tourney games.

*The Crimson Tide had three sacrifice bunts in the seventh inning, an unofficial school record.  Salem Downs and Ferazza all had sac bunts in the four-run inning.

*LeBlanc finished the game with nine strikeouts and now has 116 strikeouts on the season.  He is two strikeouts away from tying Bobby Sprowl's nearly 30-year school record of 118 strikeouts in 1977.

*Downs has 11 sacrifice bunts this season and is one shy of the UA single-season record of 12 sac bunts.

*Alabama is 11-8 one-run games this year.