Norris near-perfect in Tide victory

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Sophomore left-hander Jeffrey Norris tossed a complete-game, two-hitter as the No. 3 ranked University of Alabama baseball team ripped the Kentucky Wildcats 10-1 Saturday evening at Cliff Hagan Stadium, taking the first two games of the weekend Southeastern Conference series.

Norris (3-0), making his second consecutive SEC start, limited the Bats Cats to one run on two hits en route to his first career complete game. Norris, who threw just 86 pitches, added five strikeouts and one walk. At one point in the game, Norris retired 11 UK batters on 20 pitches.

"Today was a fine a pitching performance as we have had in our time here at Alabama," head coach Jim Wells said following the Crimson Tide's eighth straight win. "He threw three pitches for strikes and was just outstanding today. Norris did a great job."

Norris' quick work was greeted by some 20-plus family members at Cliff Hagan Stadium, including relatives from California.

"It was a lot of fun out there today," Norris said after his third win. "It all started with the guys behind me, like Peter Stonard and Allen Rice, making some great defensive plays and setting the tone early in the game.

"My fastball was working well, accompanied with my curve ball and occasional change up. It was just a fun game."

Meanwhile, his supporting cast made the plays behind in the field and pounded three UK pitchers for 10 runs on 15 hits.

Rice, a freshman from Pelham, had a career-high four hits, three RBI and three runs scored to lead the offensive attack. Rice has now hit safely in a career-best four straight games and is the Tide's leading hitter during the eight-game hitting streak, collecting 13 hits in 29 at-bats.

He contributed a two-run single in the third inning and added an RBI single in the fifth. Rice, who hit safely in his last four at-bats Saturday, added a double in the seventh and a single in the ninth.

Junior left fielder Travis Garner added three hits and two RBI, including a two-run home run to give Alabama an 8-0 lead in the fifth inning.

Sophomore Adam Pavkovich added two hits, including his fifth home run of the season, and sophomore second baseman Peter Stonard added two hits, including an RBI triple. Stonard has six hits in the two game series against the Cats.

"We put together the near complete game today," Wells added. "We put men on base, had some key hits up and down the line up. Today was the most offensive pressure we have a put on a team all year. That was as close to a complete game as it gets."

The Crimson Tide (31-5, 11-3 SEC) started the scoring party with four unearned runs in the top of the third inning to take a 4-0 lead. A booted ground ball off the bat of third baseman Cory Hahn opened the floodgates for the Crimson Tide.

Zac Welch lined a one-out single to left but was picked off first base. Scott McClanahan followed with a double off the left field wall and then Pavkovich reached on the error by Hahn, as McClanahan scored from second base to give Alabama a 1-0 lead. Stonard followed with an RBI triple into the right field corner to give Alabama a 2-0 lead.

Jeremy Brown walked and Beau Hearod was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Rice then singled up the middle, scoring Pavkovich and Brown to extend UA's lead to 4-0. Rice's two-run single snapped an 0-for-5 slump by Alabama with the bases loaded. Garner's line drive was snared by second baseman Jesse Barber to end the inning.

Alabama made it 5-0 in the fourth inning when Grant Redding led off with a single and scored on Pavkovich's two-out base hit to left.

The Crimson Tide put three more runs on the board in the fifth inning to chase UK starter Scott Wade, who was tagged for eight runs on nine hits. He also walked three and struck out one batter in his 95-pitch outing.

Hearod walked and scored on Rice's single to right field, his third RBI of the game. Garner followed with a two-run home run that cleared the wall in left field to give Alabama an 8-0 lead. The home run by Garner gives the Crimson Tide a home run in 13 consecutive games.

Pavkovich's solo home run to lead off the sixth inning and extend Alabama's lead to 9-0.

Rice led off the seventh inning with a double and scored on Garner's single to center. Garner's third RBI of the game gave UA a 10-0 lead.

Kentucky avoided the shutout in the eighth inning on Gordon Tyler's solo home run to lead off the eighth inning. Tyler's home run was just the second hit of the game for UK against Norris, who had retired 10 straight batters before the eighth inning home run.

The win was Alabama's eighth in a row and gives the 2002 Crimson Tide team the best 36-game record in school history. Alabama has won 31 of its 36 games, to overtake the 1997 team that posted a 30-6 ledger through 36 games.

The best 37-game record in school history is 30-6-1 and the Crimson Tide will better that standard, win or lose Sunday in Lexington.

The series concludes with a 1:30 p.m. (ET) game on Sunday in Lexington. Senior right-hander Shane Sanders (4-1, 3.98 ERA) will pitch for Alabama, while UK will counter with right-hander Cory Hahn (3-4, 3.51 ERA), who has been the starting first baseman in the first two games of the series.

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