Tide advances in SEC Tournament

The No. 7 seed Alabama Crimson Tide (34-22) defeated the No. 2 seed South Carolina Gamecocks (38-19) 9-7 in first round action at the 2003 SEC Tournament at the Hoover Met.

It wasn't the prettiest game played, with both teams struggling with wet field conditions on defense. But Alabama found its offense, which bodes well for the rest of the tournament. "We are very pleased to win," Tide Head Coach Jim Wells said afterwards. "It was a hard fought game. We battled through a lot of adversity, though a lot of the things we brought on ourselves.

"We got the big inning of our, a lot of guys put it together."

The top three hitters in the Alabama lineup -- Travis Garner, Adam Pavkovich and Beau Hearod -- combined for seven of the 10 hits against South Carolina. Garner had two hits, scored three runs and added one RBI for Alabama, giving him at least one hit in 49 of 54 games this season.

Aaron Rawl pitched for the Gamecocks. "Rawl was a good pitcher," Garner said. "We stayed in and kept battling against him. Hitting is contagious one hit lead to another in that inning and after we put the five spot up everyone started swinging the bat better."

"They swung the bat well," Rawl said in the post-game interview. "You've got to give them credit they hit good pitches. They hit our mistakes, and they out scored us this game. They played better then us at the plate and in the field. I thought we battled well but they ended up on top."

Pavkovich had three hits and scored a run when he stole home on a perfectly executed double steal in the seventh inning. Hearod added two hits and drove in three runs for Alabama, including a key insurance run in the ninth inning.

Alabama advances to play the No. 3 seed Auburn Tigers in a winner's bracket game at 5:07 p.m. (CT) on Friday, May 23.

Alabama and Auburn will be meeting for the first time in SEC Tournament play since the 1998 SEC Tournament here at the Hoover Met as the Tigers took two of three games en route to the tournament championship. The Alabama-Auburn game will be televised by FOX Sports Net South.

Junior right-hander Jared Woodward earned his third win of the 2003 season, pitching 5 2/3 innings in his first SEC start of the 2003 season. The Northport, Ala., native allowed five runs (3 ER) and nine hits before leaving the game with two outs in sixth inning. He added one walk and one strikeout. Woodward improved to 3-0 (1.000) on the season and 12-4 (.750) in his UA career with the victory. The win was also his first career post-season win for the Crimson Tide.

"Woodward gave us what we needed," Wells said afterwards. "The inning where we had the big inning against us--that has happened a lot this year, but we hung in there."

Dating back to last season, Alabama has won the last 10 games in which Woodward has started on the mound. The last time he starter and UA did not win was March 31, 2002 at South Carolina. Woodward is the first UA pitcher other than Brent Carter to win for Alabama since Seth Johnson beat Arkansas 14-2 on April 26th.

"I thought we played well tonight," Woodward said. "I'm proud of our offense. We came out and swung the bat very well today. I tried to give us a chance to win and that's what we did."

With the win over South Carolina, Alabama now improves to 7-1 in SEC Tournament first round games under Coach Jim Wells. The Crimson Tide's only loss in a first-round game was an 11-8 setback to Auburn in 1998.

The win over South Carolina marks the 17th come-from-behind win for Alabama, accounting for one-half of its 34 wins this year. Alabama also improves to 2-0 all-time against South Carolina in SEC Tournament play, including a 6-2 win in last year's SEC Championship game.

The win also marks the first of the season for Alabama against South Carolina. The Gamecocks swept the Crimson Tide in a three-game series in Tuscaloosa two weeks ago (May 9-11). Overall, Alabama is 3-1 against Carolina in the post-season, including a win at the 1986 Atlantic Regional at Mark Light Stadium in Coral Gables, Fla.

"I knew going into today's game it was going to be difficult to beat Alabama for a fourth time this year," South Carolina Head Coach Ray Tanner said. "You look up in the fifth inning and we were in pretty good shape to do so. To their credit they were able to muster some hits after the lead-off walk and they hit the ball pretty good. They got some pretty good rips off Aaron (Rawl). They battled back and we battled back and it was anyone's game, but we were not good enough to win it at the end."

Senior closer Brian Reed nothced his 12th save of the year and 21st of his career. The Alabama single-season record is 14 saves by Ben Short in 1991. "Reed came in and got another save," Wells said. "It was nice to win a game."

Sophomore lefty Brent Carter (8-5, 3.23 ERA) will start for the Crimson Tide agianst Auburn on Friday afternoon.

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