Tide In SEC Title Game

As a coach trying to bring his team out of the losers' bracket in the SEC Baseball Tournament, Auburn Coach Steve Renfroe summed it up following a 13-3 loss to Alabama on Saturday night. "We just ran out of bullets," he said. Alabama countered with a coach who had the answers, a team with the heavy artillery, and a pitcher throwing BBs.

After Renfroe pulled starter Cory Dueitt after four innings with the score tied at 2, Alabama batters feasted off four Auburn relievers, three of whom haven't seen much action all season long.

"I did not run the game real well Friday night," Renfroe said. "I hate to put the kids in that situation to where they had to take a beating like that and we had no one to put out there. We just didn't have any bullets left."

Alabama (36-22), still undefeated in the tournament, has the chance to become the lowest seed to win an SEC Tournament championship. The Tide is seeded at number seven, and the last time a seed that low advanced to the championship game was in 1998, when Arkansas played, but lost, to Auburn.

Coach Jim Wells credited his starting pitching and his productive batting order as reasons for victory. Alabama pounded out 15 hits and 13 runs in a seven-inning game as the Tide won by virtue of the mercy rule.

Number eight hole hitter Allen Rice led the way with three hits and five RBIs, including a two-run home run and a bases clearing double. Adam Pavkovich had two hits, including a solo home run that gave the Tide a 3-2 lead off losing pitcher Eric Brandon. Ryan Beagle had three hits and three RBIs, and Beau Hearod and Nathan Meiners each had two hits.

"We're getting a lot of production from the bottom of the lineup," Wells said. "Even when they're getting outs, they're getting productive outs. A bunt here or a sacrifice there, ‘s a big lift for us."

Alabama starting pitcher Seth Johnson pitched all seven innings and struck out 11 Auburn hitters. The last time Johnson pitched against Auburn, he allowed only one run in seven innings to record the Tide's only win of the three-game series in Auburn. Johnson had been through a rough month of late, where he had been 1-5 in his last six starts.

"Seth pitched really well," Wells said. "He bounced back from a tough month."

The pitching of Johnson and the Tide bats have combined to ask the question: Is there magic surrounding the Tide in the SEC Tournament? This team finished 14-16 in the conference, and one week ago the Tide was wondering if it would even be playing this weekend. Now the Tide finds itself playing for the SEC Tournament championship and high NCAA Tournament seeding.

"The players have really answered the call," Wells said. "The feeling went from ‘we had to get in (to the SEC Tournament)' to ‘Now we're playing for seeding.' We're playing better as a team at the right time."

Players agreed that confidence is at a high at the right time.

"We've always had a quiet confidence," Johnson said. "We knew we had talent, we just had to put it together. We seem to usually get two out of the three in hitting, pitching, or defense. Now we're getting all three. Everybody feeds off each other. They pick up their games."

Maybe ‘s just playing in Hoover that raises the Tide's level of play. Alabama will aim for its fifth SEC Tournament championship under Jim Wells and fourth at the Hoover-Met at 4 p.m. CDT Sunday against LSU.

"It's a huge confidence boost for everyone," Rice said, of playing in Hoover. "The SEC Tournament is huge. It‘s a big part of Alabama baseball."

Wells said that Jeffrey Norris will start Sunday's game. Norris was the winning pitcher in last year's tournament championship game win over South Carolina.


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