Bama blisters Bulldogs to sweep series

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The No. 4 ranked University of Alabama baseball team needed a victory Sunday afternoon to clinch its first Southeastern Conference Western Division championship since the 1996 season.

The Crimson Tide wasted little time clinching its sixth Western Division title by scoring eight first inning runs en route to a convincing 11-4 win over the Miss. State Bulldogs to complete a three-game sweep at Sewell-Thomas Stadium.

The three-game sweep was Alabama's first over MSU since 1976, which was the first year in Coach Ron Polk's first tenure at State.

Alabama (43-9, 20-7 SEC) has won the SEC Western Division championship in 1968, 1873, 1974, 1981, 1996 and 2002. The Crimson Tide reduced its magic to win the overall SEC Championship to two games over second-place South Carolina. Any combination of Alabama wins and South Carolina losses equaling two will give the Crimson Tide it first conference championship since 1996.

UA sent 12 men to the plate in a 31-minute first inning that saw the Crimson Tide hit two home runs off two different MSU pitchers. Grant Redding's first career grand slam highlighted the inning and gave UA a 7-0 lead.

MSU starter Joey Collums (3-6) faced only six batters in the bottom of the first inning and was charged with five runs and one hit. He walked three batters and hit one batter. Jeremy Brown's two-run bases loaded single was the lone hit against Collums, who left after a one out walk to Travis Garner and a wild pitch that plated Peter Stonard with a 3-0 Alabama lead.

Jacob Blakeney replaced Collums and quickly walked Beau Hearod to load the bases for the second time in the inning. Redding then slapped an 0-1 pitch off the foul pole down the right field for his second home run of the season to extend UA's lead to 7-0.

Scott McClanahan slapped his third home run in as many games two batters later to give UA an 8-0 first-inning lead. McClanahan's solo shot was his 11th of the season to lead the Alabama team. The senior from Hartselle has also homered in four straight games against Miss. State dating back to last year's series finale.

"It was nice to get eight runs in the first inning," Alabama head coach Jim Wells said. "That was big inning aided by a grand slam from Redding.

"I was pleased with our start, but I also knew that teams have a tendency to relax after such a big lead, but we played well today. We had some lapses in one inning, but overall I thought we played well."

A one-out error and a bases loaded walk led to three unearned runs in the sixth inning as Miss. State (28-22-1, 11-15 SEC) to cut the deficit to 9-3. The Bulldogs sent nine men to the plate and collected four hits in the inning.

Matthew Brinson drew a bases loaded walk to force home J.B. Tucker, who reached on an error. Steve Gendron reached on a fielder's choice to score Matthew Maniscalco. Brent Lewis' RBI single scored Chad Henry with the final run of the inning.

Despite the shaky sixth inning, the Crimson Tide got another solid outing from senior right-hander Shane Sanders, who left after allowing a lead off single in the ninth inning.

The Cullman native allowed four runs on nine hits in 8 2/3 innings. He also added four strikeouts and walked one batter. Sanders, who took a no-hitter into the fifth inning, benefited from two double plays.

After the eight-run first inning, Alabama cruised to the win over MSU, adding single runs in the third, sixth and seventh innings.

Adam Pavkovich gave UA a 9-1 lead with an RBI single in the third inning. Brown added his second hit and third RBI of the game with a single to score Stonard in the sixth inning and give the Crimson Tide a 10-3 lead.

Alabama made it 11-3 in the seventh when Travis Garner led off with a double and later scored on Redding's ground out.

MSU collected three singles in the ninth inning and scored their final run on Maniscalco's ground out with the bases loaded.

Pavkovich, Brown and Garner led Alabama with two hits each. Redding had five RBI, while Brown added three RBI for the Crimson Tide. Maniscalco and Lewis had two hits apiece for the Bulldogs.

Alabama will close out the home portion of its 2002 schedule on Tuesday night with a 6:30 p.m. game against the Miss. Valley State Delta Devils. The Crimson Tide closes out the regular-season next weekend with a three-game series at LSU.

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