LeBlanc Dominates Series Opener with Georgia

University of Alabama junior left-hander Wade LeBlanc lost his shutout with two outs in the ninth inning, but not even that could spoil the masterful job on the mound by the Crimson Tide's ace in the series opening win at No. 23 Georgia on Friday.

LeBlanc (4-0) held the Southeastern Conference's second-best hitting team (.329) to four hits en route to a 4-1 win at Frank Foley Field in Athens.

Georgia (13-3, 0-1 SEC) managed just three singles through eight innings against LeBlanc, who dominated the Bulldog line up with his incredible change-up in the series opener.

"It's probably my best pitch," LeBlanc said after the 120-pitch gem. "It's the pitch I go to on a 3-2 count, even more than my fastball. It's my job to come out here on Friday night and set the tone."

UGa centerfielder Jody Side led off the game with a single, but was quickly erased when Gordan Beckham hit into a double play, started by LeBlanc. Second baseman Matthew Dunn added a two-out base hit in the third and right fielder Bobby Felmy added a leadoff single in the fifth inning.

After the single by Felmy, LeBlanc kicked it into high gear and retired the next 14 Georgia hitters before Beckham's two-out solo home run in the ninth inning cost the junior his sixth career complete game shutout.

"Wade is the best," Alabama head coach Jim Wells said. "He gives us a chance to win every Friday night. He has done that his entire career. Georgia is a really good hitting club. Wade was able to throw all of his pitches for strikes. He really competes on the mound. He is able to make the pitch when he has too."

Georgia saw its six-game winning streak come to and end with the loss in the series opener. The Bulldogs had scored 10 or more runs in six of their last seven games, including four in-a-row before Friday's game with Alabama. They had also posted 10 or more hits in seven straight games.

LeBlanc limited an offense that averages 8.0 runs and 11.8 hits per game to four hits, including three singles.

Alabama (15-6, 1-0 SEC) scored two runs on three hits in the fifth inning to take a 2-0 lead and finally break through against Georgia ace and junior right-hander Brooks Brown.

Junior left fielder Brandon Belcher (Ruston, La.) delivered and one-out single through the right side of the infield and then took second on a balk by Brown. After junior shortstop Greg Paiml (Hoover) flied out to right, junior centerfielder Emeel Salem (Mountain Brook) followed with an RBI double to right field to give the Tide a 1-0 lead. Senior third baseman Matt Downs (Centreville) then ripped a sharp single up the middle to give the Tide the two-run lead.

The Crimson Tide increased its lead to 3-0 in the top of the sixth inning when senior DH David Ferazza drilled a 1-0 fastball over the wall in deep left field to give the Tide a three-run cushion. Ferazza, who did not play in an SEC game last season, hit his third home run of the season for the Tide.

Brown (2-1) took the loss for Georgia. He allowed three runs and five hits, with two walks and nine strikeouts. Alabama extended its lead to 4-0 in the ninth inning of reliever Jason Leaver. Paiml ripped a one-out double off the wall in right-center field and then took third on Salem's infield single. Downs then laid down a bunt single to score Paiml with the insurance run.

Salem led the Tide offense with three hits and one RBI in the win over Georgia. Downs added two hits and two RBI in the win. The two teams are back in action on Saturday, March 18 at 4 p.m. (ET). Junior right-hander Bernard Robert (2-1, 3.09 ERA) will pitch for Alabama, while Georgia will counter with senior left-hander Mickey Westphal (2-0, 4.35 ERA).

GAME NOTES:

*Alabama is now 44-27 in SEC openers, including a 9-3 mark under coach Wells.

*Alabama's 4-1 win over Georgia marked the first time since 1998 that the Crimson Tide won the series opener here in Athens. The Tide won the 1998 series opener 5-4 en route to the series win.

*LeBlanc earned his first career against Georgia in the series opener. Alabama is 2-1 in his three career starts against Georgia, including a 2-0 record here in Athens.

*The Alabama left-hander had allowed just two earned runs in its last 19 1/3 innings on the mound. He has held No. 6 Nebraska and No. 23 Georgia to two runs on nine hits in his last two starts.

*Beckham's solo home run in the ninth was the first run allowed by LeBlanc in the last 13 1/3 innings. The last two runs he has allowed have been solo home runs. LeBlanc has allowed four of the Tide's 11 home runs this season.

*Salem had three hits for the second straight game for Alabama. He is 6-for-9 (.667) in his last two games with four RBI. He is now the Tide's leading hitter with a .345 (29-for-84) average and nine RBI. Four of those nine RBI have come in the last two games.

*Ferazza's solo home run in the sixth inning was his third home run of the season. The solo blast was just the second career home for the senior in SEC play. His only other home run came in a 19-0 win over Auburn on April 19, 2004 in Tuscaloosa.

*Alabama snapped Georgia's six-game winning streak on Friday.


BamaMag Top Stories