Tide Opens Strong with LeBlanc

The series between 16th-ranked Alabama a top-ranked Mississippi State (21-2 overall, 4-2 SEC) began 47 minutes late, but the night was still young for Bama starter Wade LeBlanc as he came out for the ninth inning, retiring the side in order with the help of a 6-4-3 double play, to lead Alabama (21-8 overall, 6-1 SEC) to a 5-3 win in the series opener at Sewell-Thomas Stadium Friday night.

There was never any doubt LeBlanc would come out to pitch the ninth, Alabama Coach Jim Wells confirmed, even though LeBlanc had logged 122 pitches through eight innings.

"They are a very good team and we just tried to mix it up more," Wells said. "He kept guys off-balance, and that's what he does every week. He had three pitches in the zone."

Mitch Moreland led off the MSU ninth, reaching a toughly scored fielding error by third baseman Matt Downs, but after Jospeh McCastkill's fly out, Moreland was erased as Greg Paiml started and Evan Bush turned the game-ending double play off the bat of MSU pinch hitter Matt Richardson.

Mississippi State picked up runs off a solo shot from eighth-place hitter Michael Rutledge in the fifth inning, and a two-run blast from two-hole hitter Edward Easley. He allowed eight hits total to the league's top batting team.

"We knew we had to do a better job offensively," MSU Coach Ron Polk said. "We only got a couple of home runs but we didn't get enough base runners because he didn't walk anybody."

LeBlanc struck out seven State batters, and, without a walk, improved his season numbers to 62 strikeouts and nine walks.

"That's as well as I've located the fastball all year," he said. "As for the other pitches, I've had those all year and that's what has helped me the most."

Alabama answered Rutledge's homer in the fifth by manufacturing three runs in the bottom half of the inning with aide from a couple of Bulldog miscues.

Freshman Ryan Rhoden drew a one-out walk and, after a Spencer Pennington single that advanced him to third, scored on a passed ball by MSU starter Brooks Dunn. Pennington scored on a balk next, and Greg Paiml tripled to the left-center field gap to drive in Belcher.

"With a team like that you are going to have limited opportunities," Wells said, "but we were in a position where we could have a balk and a passed ball help us score."

Alabama equaled the MSU hit total with eight of its own, five of those coming from the bottom three spots in the Tide lineup. Brandon Belcher had two singles and a triple, scoring three runs. Paiml's triple was one of only two Alabama RBIs on the night.

"Belcher is swinging the bat well, as is Paiml," Wells said. "He got a fastball and drove it pretty good. They've given us good production since the SEC started."

A paid attendance of 5,538 watched Saturday nights game, and there are limited tickets remaining for Saturday's contest, which begins at 3:07 p.m. (Fox Sports Net TV).

"To get a win Friday night sets us up for the weekend, but we know they're good and they're going to come after us," Belcher said. "Everyone on this team seems to get along. Some people say we might not have the best talent in the league but we mesh well together and it's really fun."


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