Tide Baseball Scores Comeback Win over USA

The No. 25 Alabama baseball team overcame the loss of pitcher Austin Graham after the first batter Wednesday night, rallying for a 7-6 win over South Alabama in front of a season-high 3,014 fans at Stanky Field.

Box Score

The Crimson Tide lost starting pitcher freshman right-hander Austin Graham with an injury just five pitches into Wednesday's game, overcame four errors and held off a late rally by the Jags to record its eighth straight win.

South Alabama's first batter grounded back to Graham, who threw errantly to first base.

Alabama (13-3) scored four times in the seventh inning as they roughed up South Alabama relieverrs Eric Gonzalez and Chase Christianson to take a 7-4 lead.

"I am very proud of our team," Alabama head coach Jim Wells said. "That is the best we have played. We came back from some adverse situations against a really, really good team. South Alabama can really hit. We continue to get better at-bats each game. This was a great win."

Junior left fielder Brandon Belcher ripped a one-out double to right off Gonzalez to start the seventh-inning rally. Junior shortstop Greg Paiml followed with an RBI single up the middle to tie the game at 4-4. Junior centerfielder Emeel Salem then ripped a double to left-center field to score Paiml with the go-ahead run.

Gonzalez (3-1) allowed three runs and three hits without recording an out and took the loss.

Senior third baseman Matt Downs greeted reliever Chase Christianson with a sharp single up the middle to score Salem and extend the Tide lead 6-4. Senior second baseman Evan Bush grounded out on a slow bouncer to short to move Downs to second base and senior catcher Kody Valverde was intentionally walked with two outs. Another freshman Ryan Rhoden then laced a sharp single up the middle to score Downs and extend UA's lead to 7-4.

Alabama out hit South Alabama, 10-8. Downs led the way with a career-high three hits and matched his career high with two RBI in the win.

The Tide needed the four-run inning as the Jags battled back in the eighth to close the gap to 7-6 against sophomore right hander David Robertson, but stranded the tying and go-ahead runs on base.

Third baseman David Freese led off the inning with a double off Jordan Davis. Freese then took third on a wild pitch and scored on Guillermo Martinez's infield base hit to short to make it a 7-5 game.

Robertson then relived Davis and got pinch-hitter Michael Cart to ground out for the second out of the inning, but third out took some work. David Doss singled to right and Joel Collins reached on a two-base error that scored Martinez as the Jags pulled within a run at 7-6.

Robertson then got Jeff Morris to ground out to second base to end the inning. He retired the Jags in order in the ninth for his team-leading fourth save.

Freshman RHP Tommy Hunter, the third of five UA pitchers, earned the win in relief. Hunter (3-0) gave up one run and one hit and fanned three in 1 2/3 innings.

South Alabama (10-6) regained the lead with an unearned run in the bottom of the sixth inning, but again stranded two runners in scoring position. Freese led off with an infield single and moved into scoring position on a throwing error by Paiml.

Jeff Cunningham was then hit by a pitch to put runners on first and second and Martinez moved both runners into scoring position with a sac bunt.

Lance Heisler reached on a two-base error when Rhoden dropped a fly down the right field, that allowed Freese to score the go-ahead run and put two more runners in scoring position. Hunter pitched around the miscues and held the Jags in check with a strikeout and ground out to escape further damage.

Alabama tied the game at 3-3 with an unearned run in the sixth inning. Downs led off with a single down the left field line and moved to second when Bush reached on a dropped pop up by Martinez. Valverde's sacrifice bunt moved both runners into scoring position and Rhoden's sac fly to center tied the game at 3-3.

The Crimson Tide scored two runs in the top of the first inning to take a 2-0 lead against Jags ace P.J. Walters. Salem drew a lead off walk and scored on Downs' RBI double down the left field line. Bush grounded out to send Downs to third base and Valverde followed with an RBI single just past third baseman David Freese to give the Tide a two-run lead.

South Alabama answered in a bizarre bottom of the inning with three runs to take a 3-2 lead. USA leadoff hitter Tyler Jones reached on a throwing error by Graham, who suffered an injury on the play and left the game after just five pitches.

Junior RHP Jake McCarter relieved Graham and promptly gave up a base hit to right field by Patrick Weaver. After a wild pitch chased Jones to third,David Freese grounded out to short to cut the lead to 2-1. Jeff Cunningham followed with a towering, two-run home run to right to put the Jags ahead 3-2.

Alabama remains on the road this weekend as they travel to Lincoln, Neb., to face the fourth-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers in a three-game series beginning Friday, March 10 at 2:05 p.m. The Crimson Tide is the first-ever SEC team to play in Lincoln.

GAME NOTES:

*Alabama head coach Jim Wells coached his 1,000th all-time tonight as the Crimson Tide faced South Alabama in Mobile. Wells has compiled a 683-317 (.684) all-time record in 17 years at Northwestern State (1990-94) and Alabama (1995-present). Wells made his Division I coaching debut on Feb. 12, 1990 as NSU beat Houston Baptist 7-0.

*Alabama was playing at Stanky Field on the USA campus for the first time since 1998. The Jags last three home games (2000, 2002 and 2004) with the Crimson Tide took place at Hank Aaron Stadium, the home of the Class AA Mobile BayBears.

*UA starting pitcher Austin Graham (Hoover, Spain Park HS) left the game with an injury in the bottom of the first inning after facing just one batter. USA leadoff hitter Tyler Jones reached on a throwing error by Graham on a 2-2 count. Graham left the game after the injury. He was replaced by junior RHP Jake McCarter (Kerrville, Texas).

*Salem's father, Emeel Salem, Sr., played shortstop at South Alabama for legendary coach Eddie Stanky from 1974-77.

*McCarter allowed his first inherited runner to score in the first inning. He has stranded seven of eight runners this season out of the pen.

*Downs extended his hitting steak to four games with a first-inning RBI double.

*Bush extended his hitting streak to four games with a third-inning infield base hit.

*Paiml extended his hitting streak to four games with a seventh-inning RBI single.

*Salem extended his hitting streak to a team-high seven games with an RBI double in the seventh inning.


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