Bama Beats Auburn To Set Up Big Finish

AUBURN -- Alabama did its part, by the barest, to make the final weekend of Southeastern Conference Western Division play more than a little bit interesting. Four teams, including Bama, are tied for the SEC West lead and the other two teams are within two games of the lead with three games to play.

Alabama went into the next-to-last weekend of play tied for the lead, but went into the final game on Sunday with Bama's back against the wall. Auburn had taken the first two games of the series in a doubleheader sweep on Saturday, but the Crimson Tide fought back with a 7-6 win on Sunday to take the final game of the series.

Bama scored three times in the ninth inning and sophomore right-hander Tucker Hawley, who has been battling injuries, got the final six outs of the game to earn the win out of the bullpen.

Alabama improved to 31-22 overall and 13-14 in SEC competition. Auburn is also 13-14 in the league, as are Arkansas and Mississippi State. On the final weekend, Alabama has the toughest job, hosting highly ranked and defending national champion South Carolina. Auburn will play at Tennessee, Arkansas hosts Ole Miss, and Mississippi State hosts LSU.

The Crimson Tide wraps up the 2011 SEC and regular season with three games against No. 4 South Carolina, Thursday-Saturday, May 19-21 from Sewell-Thomas Stadium. The series gets underway at 6:35 p.m. CDT on Thursday. Friday's game will also begin at 6:35 p.m. with the series and regular season finale starting at Noon. The Saturday game will be televised on CSS.

With the Tide and Tigers tied 4-4 heading into the ninth inning Sunday, Alabama scored three times to take a 7-4 lead. The Tide got the go-ahead run on a double down the left field line by Taylor Dugas. RBI singles off the bats of Jared Reaves and Brett Whitaker extended the lead to three (7-4), as the Tide would need every run in the ninth to preserve the win.

Auburn rallied for a pair of runs in the ninth off Hawley (6-2), who pitched for the first time since April 3. Creede Simpson homered to lead off the Auburn ninth to cut the deficit to 7-5. Tony Caldwell doubled off the wall in left-center with two outs to trim the lead to 7-6, then Hawley struck out Tony Caldwell to end the game with the tying run on second base.

"We're really excited to see Hawley back out there today," UA head coach Mitch Gaspard said. "It was his first outing in the last six weeks since his injury, so it's encouraging as we move forward that he can be another piece of the puzzle out of the bullpen."

Alabama starting pitcher Jonathan Smart pitched into the eighth inning, but did not factor into the decision. Smart threw 7.0 innings, allowing four runs on eight hits with one strikeout. After allowing back-to-back singles to open the eighth, Smart gave way to Hawley, who retired the three batters he faced to keep the game tied at 4-4.

Auburn starter Slade Smith (2-1) pitched 8.2 innings in a losing effort. Smith allowed seven runs (six earned) on 12 hits with four strikeouts.

Dugas was 3-for-5 in the game with a pair of doubles and Andrew Miller was 3-for-4 and scored the go-ahead run in the ninth inning. Jared Reaves, Brett Whitaker and Austen Smith had two hits and two RBI each.

Like game two of the series, Auburn jumped out to an early lead, plating a pair of runs in the first game of the series finale. The Tigers got three hits in the inning, and scored on a sac fly and a RBI double by Wes Gilmer to make the score 2-0 after one.

The Tide pulled even in the fourth inning, scoring on RBI singles by Whitaker and Smith. Dugas led off the fourth with the first hit of the game for Alabama and scored on Whitaker's infield hit. Smith followed with a sharp single to right field, plating Reaves, who reached on an error.

Brock Bennett extended his hitting streak to 10 games with a solid single through the left side to lead off the sixth inning. Bennett is hitting .500 (21-for-42) in his last 10 games. Bennett came around to score on a two-out double down the left field line by Smith, giving the Tide a 3-2 lead.

After allowing three hits in the first inning, Smart retired 11 straight hitters and didn't allow another hit until a leadoff double by Kevin Patterson in the seventh. After a bunt single moved Patterson to third, a squeeze bunt by Justin Hargett plated Johnson. The go ahead run came across on a sac fly by Justin Fradejas, scoring Jay Gonzalez for a 4-3 Tigers lead.

"I think you can see right now that each team is turning up the volume right now and giving their best efforts," Gaspard said. "I thought this was a great series on both sides, both teams competed like crazy all weekend long."

Alabama answered in the top of the eighth when Reaves singled to left field to drive in Dugas who doubled to lead off the inning.

After Auburn got back-to-back singles to lead off the eighth off Smart, Hawley came out of the bullpen. Hawley induced a pair of fly outs then struck out pinch-hitter Cullen Wacker to end the inning without any damage.

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