Baseball loses but still tourney bound

STARKVILLE -- The Crimson Tide struggled at the plate and on the mound Sunday at Dudy Noble Field and that combination led to 9-1 loss to the No. 17 Mississippi State Bulldogs as the 2003 regular-season came to an end. <br><br>But despite the loss, Alabama clinched a berth in the 2003 SEC Tournament.

Florida's loss at home to Kentucky and Arkansas' home loss to LSU sends the Crimson Tide to the post-season for the eighth time in nine years under Jim Wells.

"I am happy to be in the (SEC) Tournament," Alabama head coach Jim Wells said. "We needed some help today and we are fortunate to be in the tournament, but it's better than not being in the tournament. It's been a long season and we are glad to still be playing. Hopefully, we can get a few more wins this week and play beyond the SEC Tournament."

Alabama (33-22, 14-16 SEC) will be the No. 7 seed at the SEC Tournament and will face No. 2 seed and SEC Eastern Division champion South Carolina on Wednesday, May 21 at 1 p.m. at the Hoover Met.

The first-round game will be a re-match of last year's SEC Championship game won by the Crimson Tide, 6-2. South Carolina swept Alabama during the 2003 regular-season at Tuscaloosa (May 9-11), marking just the second home SEC sweep of the Crimson Tide in the Jim Wells era.

MSU shortstop and leadoff hitter Matthew Maniscalco, playing in his school record 238th consecutive game, tallied three hits, two runs and one RBI to lead the Bulldogs 12-hit attack. Second baseman and nine-hole hitter Thomas Berkery added two hits, three RBI and scored one run at the bottom of the order for the Dogs.

MSU right-hander Jeff Lacher shutout the Crimson Tide on three hits through seven innings before losing the shutout and leaving the game with two outs in the eighth inning.

Lacher (6-0) allowed one run and five hits in 7 2/3 innings to earn the win. He also added one strikeout and did not walk a batter. The Hattiesburg, Miss., native retired the first 10 Alabama batters he faced before allowing a one-out single to Adam Pavkovich in the fourth ininng.

Senior shortstop Matthew Maniscalco led off the game with a single to center field and stole second after Steve Gendron struck out for the second out of the inning. Matthew Brinson followed with a single through the left side of the infield to give MSU a 1-0 lead.

The Bulldogs made it a 2-0 game in the third inning with another two-out base hit. Maniscalco singled up the middle with one out and advanced to second base on a ground out by Jeff Butts, who executed the hit-and-run to perfection. Gendron followed with two-out bloop single to right chasing Maniscalco home from second base.

MSU (38-16-1, 17-12 SEC) struck for two more runs in the fourth inning to knock Johnson out of the game. Joe Mungle and Thomas Berkery -- the eight and nine hitters in the order -- collected back-to-back, two-out singles to extend MSU's lead to 4-0.

Johnson (6-5), who lost for the fifth time in six starts, lasted only 3 2/3 innings and allowed four runs and eight hits, with two strikeouts. He was replaced by senior right-hander Brian Reed in the fourth as the game was halted by the umpires for a 45-minute rain delay.

After play was resumed, Reed wriggled out of a bases loaded jam when he struck out Butts to end the fourth inning.

MSU catcher Craig Tatum hit his sixth home of the year in the sixth inning to give the Bulldogs a 5-0 lead. The on-slaught continued when Reed walked Mungle and Berkery and then gave up a double to Maniscalco, scoring Mungle from second base.

Reed, who allowed three runs and two hits in 1.2 innings, left the game after the Maniscalco's double. He also walked three and struck out two batters.

State tacked on two more runs in the seventh as Berkery ripped a two-run double to left-center field off Jeffrey Norris, who was touched for two runs and four hits in 1 1/3 innings of relief.

Alabama avoided the shutout in the eighth inning with its only scoring threat of the game. Allen Rice and Charlie Lyons reached on back-to-back one singles and after a wild pitch, third baseman Evan Bush lifted a fly ball to left field to score Rice with the only run of the game.

The Crimson Tide managed only five hits in the loss, with two hits coming from Lyons. Rice, Pavkovich and Welch had the other three hits, with Welch collecting the lone extra base hit -- a two-out double in the seventh inning.

Jared Woodward was the most effective of the four UA pitchers, retiring all four batters he faced in the game.

MSU reliever Jonathan Papelbon retired all four batters in faced in a non-save situation.

SEC Tournament, first day schedule:

Wednesday, May 21
10 a.m. -- Game 1: #6 Vanderbilt (27-26, 14-16) vs. #3 Auburn (38-17, 18-12) [CSS]
1 p.m. -- Game 2: #7 Alabama (33-22, 14-16) vs. #2 South Carolina (38-18, 19-11) [CSS]
5 p.m. -- Game 3: #5 Ole Miss (33-23, 17-13) vs. #4 Mississippi State (38-16-1, 17-12) [CSS]
8 p.m. -- Game 4: #8 Arkansas (34-18, 14-16) vs. #1 LSU (37-18-1, 20-9-1) [CSS]

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