Late Inning Heroics Spark Alabama over Trojans



TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - Kody Valverde's single up the middle with two outs in the bottom of the ninth drove home Emeel Salem with the winning run and the Alabama Crimson Tide, the No. 4 national seed, defeated Troy 4-3 in the winner's bracket game at Sewell-Thomas Stadium.

"We're very happy to win," Alabama coach Jim Wells said. "Some how, some way, we stayed in the game long enough for something to happen. The key to it was Kent Matthes being able to take curve balls in the dirt and get on to Valverde to the plate."

Playing before a crowd of 5,166, Salem reached first with one out on a throwing error by Troy's Tom King and moved to second on a ground out by Matt Downs.

Alabama coach Jim Wells inserted Kent Matthes to bat for designated hitter Alex Avila, who has been mired in a one-for-28 slump. After Salem advanced to third on a wild pitch, Matthes worked Felix for a walk, bringing Valverde to the plate for the game-winning dramatic moment.

Afer missing badly on Felix's first pitch, Valverde laced a single up the middle and set off a celebration by the Alabama fans and the players.

It was a nip-and-tuck game from start to finish. Alabama starter Tommy Hunter lasted six innings, giving up eight hits, all three runs but only one earned. He exited in the seventh when he walked Ian Craze.

"That was a great college baseball game," Troy coach Bobby Pierce said. "That's what you sign up for and that's what the kids enjoy. It's a tough loss for us, obviously. We're going to have to battle back now. Our kids laid it on the line today like they always do. I thought we had opportunities to score and I have to credit Alabama's pitching for making the pitches when they had to."

Wells went to his bullpen and brought in his ace closer David Robertson, who for the first time this year, gave up a hit to the first batter he faced. King hit a hard grounder to Evan Bush at second and it took a bad hop into right field. Craze would later score on a sacrifice fly by Josh Dew, but Robertson was in total control, going three innings, allowing the one hit, no runs and striking out three. Robertson picked up the win, improving his record to 4-3 on the season.

"There's a little pressure in stepping into that situation but I've been doing it all year and Coach (Wells) keeps putting me out there," Robertson said. "So I guess I'm getting used to it. I just went out there and tried to do my best."

Felix, who was the winner against Alabama when the Trojans beat the Crimson Tide back in March, was the hard-luck loser, dropping 9-4 for the year. He had taken over for starter Joe Hallahan in the fifth inning and gave up two runs, the last being unearned.

Troy scored single runs in the fourth, sixth and seventh innings, the first tow being unearned. First baseman Josh Dew reached second to open the fourth on a two-base error on Crimson Tide right fielder Ryan Rhoden.

Edgar Ramirez's one-out single advanced Dew to third and he scored on a single to left by Jared Keel, who was thrown out on a relay from Brandon Belcher to Evan Bush.

In the sixth Troy's Blake Green scored after reaching on a throwing error by Greg Paiml. He moved to third on a Ramirez single and scored on a grounder by Felix.

Troy took a 3-2 edge in the top of the seventh when Ian Craze walked, moved around to third on a single by Tom King, and raced home on a short fly to center. Emeel Salem stabbed the fly but his throw was off toward the Alabama dugout, allowing to Craze to score and giving the Trojans their first and only lead of the night.

Alabama had taken 1-0 and 2-1 leads in the third and fifth. Paiml walked to start the third and later scored after moving to second on a single by Salem and to third on a sacrifice by Matt Downs, his 13th of the season, a Crimson Tide record.

Paiml scored on a grounder to second by Alex Avila. Troy averted farther problems when Felix made a diving catch of a Kody Valverde fly ball to right. In the fifth, the Tide scored with a two-out single by Downs, a walk to Avila and a single to left by Valverde.

After Troy had moved ahead 3-2 in the top of the seventh, Alabama tied the game at 3-3 on Paiml's third homer of the year, a line shot over the right centerfield fence.

Alabama (43-19) advances to the championship game Sunday night when it will face the winner of the afternoon contest between Troy, now 46-15, and Southern Mississippi. If the Crimson Tide loses Sunday night, it will play Monday afternoon against its championship flight foe.