Tide Over Auburn At SEC Tourney

Taylor Tankersley‘s 1-4 record and 9.87 earned run average over his last seven SEC starts told coach Jim Wells one thing; but it didn't convince him of anything. It's quite possible that Tankersley is better in a relief role, a role he excelled in during the 2001 season where he was named a Freshman All-American.

After using Tankersley for a little bit of relief on Thursday, he was brought in during the seventh inning of Friday's game with the Tide up 3-2, bases loaded, and no outs. Three runs eventually scored, but they were all starter Brent Carter's, and an error by first baseman Zac Welch led to one of the runs.

It came as a surprise to many when the lefty Tankersley replaced the lefty Carter, especially when righty Seth Johnson was also warming up. But word came from the bullpen that Tankersley was sharper.

Tankersley pitched three innings of relief, allowing only two hits and no runs were charged to him. He picked up the win in Alabama's 7-5 win over Auburn to improve his record to 7-4 on the season.

Tankersley's fine relief pitching complimented the Tide offense, which saw itself down 5-3 going into the eighth inning.

Auburn reliever Eric Brandon struck out Adam Pavkovich, but a wild pitch allowed Pavkovich to reach first base to start the inning. "That really switched momentum," Wells said."The game was different then because instead of a strikeout, we had a runner on base."

Beau Hearod followed that with a walk, after falling behind no balls and two strikes. The big hit then came in the form of cleanup hitter Zac Welch, who ripped a double to left-center field off Auburn reliever Steven Register, past the diving Sean Gamble. The ball rolled a ways behind Gamble, allowing both runs to score.

"I was thinking that if I wasn't that slow, I would have had a triple," Welch said, jokingly."But I knew both runners would score when it got by him."

The go-ahead hit came from designated hitter Nathan Meiners. With one out, Meiners ripped a single off Auburn's third pitcher of the inning, Levale Speigner. What was impressive about Meiners' at-bat was that after three pop-outs during the game, he got the single off Auburn's best relief pitcher. Speigner entered the game with a 9-0 record.

"Whenever you get up to bat, you want to get the job done," Meiners said."All the guys before me had worked hard to get their job done, I just needed to get mine done. It's important that when you make mistakes, you learn from them. I'm not going to let my pop-ups carry too far. You have to get the mistakes out of your head."

Alabama scored its seventh and final run on a fielder's choice hit by Evan Bush.

Auburn scored the first run of the day, an unearned run in the fourth as Bobby Huddleston scored on a Scott Schade groundout.

Alabama answered in the bottom of the fourth with three runs off Auburn starter Colby Paxton. Beau Hearod's double scored two runs, and Charlie Lyons' two out RBI single scored Zac Welch.

The Tide's lack of an offense contributed heavily to the 16 conference losses, and the average spectator figured that Alabama would just roll over and die.

But not in Hoover. Not in a tournament where Jim Wells seems to own. Wells has won SEC Tournaments in 1995 (SEC Western Division Tournament) 1996, 1997, 1999, and 2002. Two more wins by the Tide will give the team another championship.

"You'd have to ask Jim," said Auburn Coach Steve Renfroe, when asked if Alabama is just a different team in the SEC Tournament."He's got the best record I've ever seen here."

Wells seemed to agree.

"Maybe there's something to that," Wells said."What the guys really buy into and believe is that this is a new season. We're glad the regular season is over, and now we're trying to start a new one."

Wells thinks that the two conference tournament wins will get them in an NCAA regional tournament. With the record now 35-22, and an RPI of 19 that improved with a win over Auburn and its No. 2 RPI, he's probably right.

"I feel we're in," Wells said."The fact that we've come this far (helps). We need to continue to play our best and not be satisfied with just these two wins."

As the only undefeated team on its side of the bracket, the Tide must wait and see who wins Saturday morning's elimination game between Auburn and South Carolina. The winner of that game will play Alabama at 5 p.m.

If the Tide wins that game, it will advance to Sunday's championship game. A loss by the Tide would force a second game that would begin at either 9 a.m. or 11 a.m. on Sunday.

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