Tide ace silences Gator bats

With a starting lineup averaging .364 top to bottom, the Florida Gators have a well-deserved reputation as a power-hitting team. But as the baseball adage goes, good pitching stops good hitting every time. And with All-SEC starter Lance Cormier on the mound, on this day the pitching edge belonged to Alabama. <br><br>"I had good movement on my fastball today," Cormier said. "And they kept beating it into the ground.

"Adam (Pavkovich, shortstop) and Allen Rice (third base) made some great plays behind me."

After giving up a first-inning run, Cormier dominated through the middle innings, at one point retiring 11 Gators in a row. "Cormier is one of the best pitchers in this league," said Florida Head Coach Pat McMahon. "He pitched to both sides of the plate and did an outstanding job."

Not to argue with his elders or anything, but afterwards Cormier didn't agree entirely. "Everybody says with good pitching you're working both sides of the plate, but I really wasn't. I had some success in April against Florida just throwing fast balls inside. After throwing a fast ball away that they singled on me (in the first inning), I don't think I threw another fast ball away until the sixth inning."

Cormier looks in for the sign during Thursday's game. The 7-4 victory pushed Bama forward in the winners' bracket, increasing the odds that the Tide will play for the title.

The victory raised Cormier's record to 10-3, once again justifying Tide Head Coach Jim Wells' faith in his senior starter. "I thought Lance pitched great," Wells said. "He pitched better than he has in several weeks. He had good control and set us up not only for this game--but for next week (at the NCAAs). He struggled a bit at the beginning, but he settled in."

Two singles and a wild pitch gave Florida a brief lead in the first inning, but Cormier settled down quickly, holding the powerful Gator offense scoreless for the next six innings. "We had some success with them at home earlier, and we were able to continue that approach today," Wells said. "When you look down the Florida lineup, everyone is hitting .300+. Usually you're looking for that .212 hitter, but I don't even know if they have a .312 hitter. They've got a lot of power."

Actually, the Gators did start two hitters averaging .283 and .289, but Wells' point is valid. "I don't know how to account for (my success) against Florida," Cormier said. "They just didn't make the adjustments on my fast balls thrown inside. A couple of hitters did, but for the most part their team didn't.

"The two games I've thrown against them, they haven't made the adjustment to the fast ball thrown inside."

Last weekend's season-ending series at LSU was turned into a two-day affair, as a severe rainstorm swept through the Baton Rouge area on Friday night. Normally Alabama's Friday-night starter, Cormier ended up pitching the first game of a double-header on Saturday, which shortened his rest for this weekend by one day. "I felt good out there (Thursday night)," Cormier said. "I got a little tired more quickly. But at the start of the game I felt good, certainly my arm felt good. I just got tired in the eighth inning. They're a good hitting team. They'll come back sooner or later.

"It's tough to hold that team down. They started making adjustments, and I did get a little tired. The ball started getting over the plate more."

Cormier thinks he's settling into a groove for post-season play. "I'm happy with these last two outings," he said. "Up until the seventh inning at LSU I thought that was the best game I had pitched. So I've got back-to-back good outings. And our hitters are scoring runs now.

Talking to the media after the game, Cormier explained that he worked the ball inside as much as he could against the powerful Gator lineup.

"When they score seven runs for you, it makes it easier to pitch."

The Tide ace worked 8 2/3s innings Thursday night, throwing 110 pitches, 71 for strikes. "I shoot for 65 percent strikes," Cormier related. "It's good that my pitch count stayed around 110, which is about what I've been throwing all year."

After getting the first two outs in the eighth inning, a tiring Cormier yielded four hits in a row before giving way to Brian Reed in relief. Reed proceeded to load the bases himself, before getting out of the inning. "Watching from the dugout---that's tough," Cormier said. "You just get nervous. At that point you can't control anything. As a starter you're used to being in control of everything you do. But at that point you've got to just sit and watch.

"When it was our turn to bat I was thinking let's get three outs in a hurry just to get the game over."

Thursday's victory pushed Alabama forward in the winners' bracket, increasing the squad's chances to make it to Sunday's championship game. The Tide has Friday off and will return to action Saturday at 10 am to face the winner of Florida/MSU. Alabama would have to lose twice on Saturday not to advance to the championship.

To this point the Tide is playing very well, a sharp contrast to last weekend when the team's worst outing of the season cost Alabama a shot at the SEC regular-season title. "It was a hard weekend," Cormier acknowledged. "Some guys played well, but our pitchers didn't throw that well. But we knew we were a good team. 44-12 (Alabama's season record) is not a bad deal. We knew we were still a good team. We just had a bad weekend. We hadn't had a bad weekend all year where we just played poorly.

"Our confidence was still there. We knew coming out that we could turn it around."

As one of several talented seniors on the team, all year long Cormier has worked to provide leadership. "I didn't need to say much," he related. "The players knew. They weren't really down. We knew that we were still OK, but we knew we had to come out here and play better. We've shown that the first two games, and that's put confidence back."

Missing out on the SEC regular-season title was a disappointment, but right now Cormier and his teammates are shooting for even higher goals. "The tournament championship would definitely make up for it," he said. "And if we win this championship, then we'll pretty much be sure to host a Super Regional and the Regional. That's how you get to Omaha (for the College World Series).

"The SEC championship is nice. But winning the last game of the season will be a lot nicer."

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