Bama Reaches Championship Game

Alabama advanced to the championship game of the Southeastern Conference Baseball Tournament Saturday night as the Crimson Tide out-slugged the Florida Gators, 11-9. Bama will take on the winner of the South Carolina-LSU game, which was following the Alabama-Florida contest.

The SEC Championship Game will begin at 3 p.m. CDT Sunday at the Hoover Met in suburban Birmingham.

Bama's Saturday evening game was necessitated when the Gators won a Saturday morning game, 7-4. That win by Florida broke a 12-game winning streak Alabama had over the Gators. Bama is now 5-1 vs. Florida this year. South Carolina defeated LSU in an earlier game Saturday to force the Saturday night game between those two squads.

This year marked the first in which the top four seeds were the final four teams in the SEC tournament, and also is the first time there has not been an undefeated team going to the title game on Sunday. Alabama, regular season champions of the SEC Western Division, is the number two seed. South Carolina is the number one seed.

The win improved Alabama's record to 47-13. The Crimson Tide is ranked between seventh and 12th in the national polls and will receive an NCAA Tournament invitation Monday. Most expect Alabama to be awarded a Super Regional.

Following the morning game, Alabama Head Coach Jim Wells noted that "When you get into tournament play, you have to be able to win one of those 11-10 games." He was a Florida run away from being prophetic.

Alabama gave up an early lead, had to battle back from behind, then had to hold on in a dramatic ninth inning. Florida was the home team for this game and batting in the bottom of the ninth had trimmed the lead from 11-8 to 11-9 and had the bases loaded with one out. Two singles, an error, a balk, a walk, and a wild pitch had contributed to the Gators' ninth-inning rally. Sophomore left-hander Jeffrey Norris came on in relief of winner Brian Reed (5-0) and threw one pitch. He turned the tapper back to the mound into a double play, home to first, ending the game.

Wells said, "I was proud of the fact that the team swung the bats a lot better tonight. It was good to be able to answer when Florida got ahead."

Most expect Norris to get the start in the championship game Sunday.

Reed, who came on in relief in the fourth inning and went 4 1/3 innings, said he did not have his best stuff and was grateful his teammates were able to bail him out. He allowed three hits and one earned run while striking out three and issuing three bases on balls.

Alabama used the home run ball to defeat Florida. Jeremy Brown, who had not homered in six weeks, blasted a two-run shot in the first inning. However, Florida went up 7-2 over the next couple of innings against starter Jared Woodward. Then Travis Garner blasted a grand slam home run to pull the Tide to within a run and the next batter, Peter Stonard, tied the game with a solo homer.

Wells said, "This is an interesting team. It finds a different way to win about every night."

Stonard had a run-scoring double that tied the game at eight. Scott McClanahan's two-run homer, which followed a run on a Florida error, wrapped up the scoring for Alabama.

Florida out-hit Alabama, 15-12. Garner and Stonard were both three-for-five for the Tide. Wells said, "That's the reason you find them in the top of the line-up. You put your best hitters up front."

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