Bama Powers Past Rebels, Takes Series

A third-inning grand slam by senior designated hitter Allen Rice snapped a 2-2 tie and catapulted the Crimson Tide to a 12-6 victory over Mississippi Sunday and another series win for the Tide.

Rice's slam highlighted a three-hit, five-RBI performance and was one of three Crimson Tide home runs. The three long balls also equaled a season high for Alabama.

After struggling through the first inning on 32 pitches, Brandon Belcher (4-0) finished with his first career complete game. The Ruston, La., native allowed six runs and eight hits for his fourth win of the season. He walked three and struck out four.

After a pair of nailbiters in the first two games of series, the University of Alabama baseball team left little doubt Sunday afternoon in posting the win over the No. 9 Ole Miss Rebels in front of 3,875 fans at Swayze Field.

The win was Alabama's first series win over Ole Miss since the 2000 season and its first series win in Oxford since the 1997 season.

"It's been awhile," Rice said following his five-RBI game. "We came in here and wanted to win the series and that is what we were able to do. Anytime you get two out of three from a team like Ole Miss on the road, it's something to build upon."

The Crimson Tide (24-10, 8-4 SEC) remains atop the SEC Western Division standings after Sunday's win. Arkansas (7-5 SEC) is one game back of Alabama after its home sweep over Vanderbilt. Ole Miss and Auburn are tied for third with identical 6-6 records and two games behind Alabama.

In addition to Rice's grand slam, sophomore second baseman Greg Paiml hit a two-run home run in the seventh inning and junior catcher Kody Valverde slammed a three-run home run in the eighth inning.

Alabama's four through seven hitters in the lineup combined for nine hits, eight runs and nine RBI in the win.

"It's a different guy every night," Rice said. "If we have to bunt to win, we do that. This weekend,

Gabe (Scott) had a huge weekend. We just need to get guys on base for him because he is carrying us right now."

The Crimson Tide's offense was sparked by a defensive play in the first inning that changed that may have changed the outcome of the game.

Ole Miss (22-10, 6-6 SEC) loaded the bases with not outs on singles by Cooper Osteen and Chris Coghlan and a walk to Stephen Head. Right fielder Brian Pettway then laced a fly into the right-center field gap for what appeared to be a three-run double. But, Alabama center fielder Emeel Salem made a diving catch in the gap, turning the would-be double into a sac fly as Osteen scored from third.

Jon Jon Hancock added another sac fly to give the Rebels a 2-0 lead, but Belcher escaped the inning with minimal damage and gave the Tide the eight-plus innings on the mound.

Alabama answered with two runs in the top of the second inning to tie the game. Senior first baseman Zac Welch opened the inning with a double into the right field corner, moved to third on a ground out and scored on Rice's infield single. Rice scored the tying run on Salem's two-out single to left-center field.

The Crimson Tide made it a 6-2 game in the third inning on Rice's first career grand slam to right field that gave UA the four-run lead. Senior right fielder Gabe Scott led off with a single, to extend his hitting streak to 21 straight games. Welch walked and Valverde followed with a single to load the bases before Rice drilled the first pitch from UM starter Anthony Cupps over the wall in right.

Cupps (5-3) allowed six runs and six hits in three innings and was charged with the loss.

Alabama took a 7-2 lead in the fourth inning when Scott singled, stole second base and scored on Welch's base hit to left field.

Ole Miss cut the deficit to 7-3 with a run in the bottom of the sixth inning. Head was hit by a pitch to open the inning and scored on Hancock's one-out single to left. Belcher struck out Zack Cozart and Alex Presley to strand two base runners and preserve the Tide's four-run lead.

Bama answered with two runs in the top of the seventh inning to take a 9-2 lead on Paiml's first home run of the season. Iorg singled to left with one out and Paiml followed with a two-run shot to left to give the Tide a seven-run lead.

Valverde's three-run home run in the eighth inning gave Alabama a 12-3 lead.

Ole Miss got three back in the bottom of the eighth on Pettway's RBI single and Hancock's two-run home run to make the final 12-6.

The Crimson Tide shares the overall SEC lead with Eastern Division co-leaders Florida and South Carolina.

Alabama travels to Florida next weekend for a three-game SEC series.

Alabama has won back-to-back SEC series against Top 10 teams. In addition to the series win over No. 9 Ole Miss, Alabama took two of three last weekend from then-No. 4 ranked LSU.

Alabama is home Tuesday night at 6:30 p.m. against Memphis. The Crimson Tide is back on the road next weekend against another Top 10 SEC foe as they travel to Florida for a three-game series against the Gators.

GAME NOTES:

*Alabama has won back-to-back SEC series for the first time since April 2002 as they swept back-to-back series with Florida and Kentucky.

*Alabama notched its first SEC road series win against Western Division team since winning two out of three at Arkansas in 2002.

*The Crimson Tide has won three of its four SEC series after winning only one SEC series last year.

*Alabama last two SEC series wins have come against No. 4 LSU and No. 9 Ole Miss.

*Brandon Belcher made his fifth start of the 2005 season on the mound and his first since a win over Birmingham Southern on March 9th. Belcher was the losing pitcher last year in the rubber game of the series against Ole Miss, but struck out 11 Rebels batters in 6 1/3 innings.

*Allen Rice's RBI infield single in the top of the second inning was his 100th career RBI at Alabama.

*Rice added his first career grand slam in his next at in the top of the third inning to give Alabama a 6-2 lead. Rice's grand slam home run was the second of the season by Alabama, and both have been on Sunday. Junior 1B Evan Bush hit a first-inning grand slam in a 23-1 win over McNeese State on Sunday, March 6.

*Rice's home run was his first in an SEC game since April 6, 2003 at Auburn, a span of 203 at-bats against SEC pitching.

*Scott went 2-for-4 and walked twice in Sunday's win over Ole Miss. He extended his hitting streak to 21 consecutive games with a third inning single. During the streak, Scott is batting .437 (31-for-71) with 16 runs scored, five home runs and 15 RBI. He has raised his season batting average 207 points since the streak began on Feb. 26.

*Alabama tied its season high with three home runs on Sunday. UA also hit three home runs in a win over Samford on March 2. The Crimson Tide has homered in six straight games for the first time since May 10-17, 2003. Alabama has also homered in six consecutive SEC games for the first time since March 24-April 13, 2002 (UA homered in nine straight SEC games during that stretch).

*Alabama has scored 48 runs Belcher's five starts this season, an average of 9.6 runs per start for the sophomore.


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