Alabama baseball team won by the smallest of margins on Friday night as junior shortstop Greg Paiml laid down a bunt single on a safety squeeze in the bottom of the ninth to give the Tide and Wade LeBlanc, who pitched a complete-game shutout, the win.
Paiml, who has five bunt singles this season, laid a bunt down the first base line. FIU's pitcher and first baseman collided trying to field the perfectly bunted ball, and pinch-runner Jeff Texada scored with ease.
The run snapped a streak of 20 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings by the Alabama offense. The Crimson Tide was shutout 2-0 at home by Memphis on Tuesday night.
"That was our best shot, the bunt," Alabama Coach Jim Wells said. The Alabama bats continued its slump Friday, scattering six hits, mostly on bloops or bunts.
Andrew Rogers' pinch-hit single to lead off the Tide's half of the ninth was solid, however.
"Paiml came through in a big way with the bunt but it was nice to gut a guy on and move him over," Wells said.
Freshman Kyle Moore bunted the pinch runner to second and a wild pitch from reliever Chris Siebenaler sent Texada to third base. Junior first baseman Spencer Pennington was intentionally walked before Paiml laid the game-winning bunt
FIU junior right-hander Walker Whitley gave the fans a pitcher's duel throughout the game that last just two hours and 34 minutes.
"Both starters were good," Wells said. "Wade was outstanding. The fastball was in and out and the breaking ball and change-up were working all night for strikes.
LeBlanc showed why he is a potential high-round Major League draft choice with 11 strikeouts and now walks in the 113 pitch performance. He allowed just three hits, two of which came in the first inning.
LeBlanc (2-0) won for the second time this season after throwing his sixth career shutout and 11th complete game for the Tide. LeBlanc retired the final 11 FIU hitters and struck out the side in the ninth inning. He also retired nine straight Golden Panthers earlier in the game after FIU got two hits and threatened in the first before an inning-ending double play.
"He was not as sharp in the first inning, but he got the double play and was tough to beat after that," Wells added.
Whitley, the FIU starter, threw eight scoreless innings for FIU (5-6) and allowed four hits, with four walks and five strikeouts.
The Crimson Tide (6-3) made four errors in the win, but got a game-saving catch from junior center fielder Emeel Salem in the seventh inning to take an extra base hit away from Yosvel Barroso with a spectacular diving catch in left-center gap, landing head first right at the warning track.
His effort got a standing ovation from the fans at Sewell-Thomas, and from LeBlanc, who saluted Salem with his glove after the outstanding catch.
"The guy hit it a long way," Wells said. "We were hoping that would lead us to score a run but we had to wat a while for that. Who knows, that could have been the game, and we could have been playing for a tie in the ninth (if Salem hadn't caught the ball.
Alabama pinch-runner Tyler Odle was cut down at the plate trying to score in the seventh when FIU center fielder Bryan Pullin came up with a big play of his own nailing Odle who tried to score on Spencer Pennington's soft single.
Paiml had two hits to lead the UA offense. Kody Valverde, Alex Avila, Rodgers and Pennington had one hit each.
The two teams will meet again on Saturday at 4 p.m. (CT) at the Joe.
*Junior left-hander Wade LeBlanc (Lake Charles, La.) recorded 11 strikeouts against Florida International to move into eighth place on the school's all-time strikeout list with 234 career strikeouts. He surpassed Taylor Tankersley (232, 2002-04), Tommy Milstead (231, 1988-91) and Jackie Glover (228 K, 1967-69) on Friday night.
*In 20 innings this season, LeBlanc has 28 strikeouts and only three walks. He has not walked a batter in two of his three starts this year.
*Alabama's last 1-0 win came against Auburn here at the Joe in 1996 when Joel Colgrove out-dueled Auburn's Tim Hudson. *Salem's 12-game hitting streak ended with an 0-for-4 night. *Moore tied the UA single-game record with two sacrifice bunts in the win over FIU.