Tide Loses, Bench-Clearing Leads to Ejections

A starting Alabama pitcher not Wade LeBlanc, a bench-clearing tussle and a pop fly that bounced off three players before falling for a base hit… They're three things you don't expect to see often at a Friday night Alabama baseball game in Tuscaloosa.

But Bama fans saw all three and still went home disappointed, as the Crimson Tide stranded two base runners in the ninth inning, dropping a 4-3 contest to the Southeastern Conference's last-place team and falling two games back of Southeastern Conference leader Kentucky.

Bench-clearing hysterics resulted six ejections and overshadowed the bulk of a closely contested game. Florida's Gavin Dickey and Alabama catcher Kody Valverde tangled at the plate on a play after Valverde tagged Dickey out at home for the second out in the ninth inning.

Dickey tried for an inside-the-park home run on a ball to the center field wall, and after a perfect relay Emeel Salem to Greg Paiml to the plate, Valverde stood over Dickey, who laid on the ground from the head first slide. Dickey took offense and responded by jumping up, but Valverde pushed Dickey as he got up. Dickey shoved back and the benches and bullpens for both teams cleared.

"The ball beat him to the play by a good bit and he slid kind of with his elbows up, trying to knock the ball loose or whatever," Valverde said. "It was a push and a shove each and then everyone got involved in it. Everyone got excited. It was a close game. Emotions were high and I guess it got out of hand."

Dickey called the incident an unfortunate situation.

"He was kind of jawing but both of us should have kept cooler heads and not let the game get out of hand like that," Dickey said. "It's unfortunate that it happened. I have great respect for the Alabama team, their program and their tradition and I wish it wouldn't have happened."

Dickey and Valverde were ejected, and during the chaotic scene of both teams' entire squads on the field after the initial confrontation, four more players were ejected. For Alabama, Josh Copeland and Bernard Robert (who started and had been replaced earlier in the game by Jordan Davis) were tossed, and Florida's Chris Petrie and Bryson Barbere were thrown out.

After the game, both coaches were under the impression that none of the suspensions would carry over for the rest of the series, but later Friday night, event management personnel from the University of Alabama said the umpires had determined Valverde and Dickey would be suspended for Saturday's game. The crew chief for the series is Al Davis.

Wade LeBlanc did not start in his usual Friday night role, forcing Robert to start a day earlier than his normal weekend assignment. LeBlanc had pitched every Friday night game this season before the Florida game.

"We were trying to give Wade an extra day's rest," Wells said. "He is barely able to throw his (bullpen practice) during the week."

Wells said that LeBlanc is penciled in for Saturday's 4 p.m. start.

Bryan Augenstein, the Florida starter, dominated Alabama hitters through the first five innings, holding Alabama to three hits, all on the infield, and facing just one batter above the minimum possible. (Emeel Salem reached base on infield singles in the first and third innings, but was caught stealing both times.)

Bernard Robert allowed a run in each of the first three innings, and an error led to the Gators' final run of the game in the sixth inning.

Augenstein left the game with one out and one on in the ninth inning after Matt Bentley hit a pop up behind second base that caromed off three Florida players before dropping in for a hit. Ryan Rhoden's pinch-hit single put the potential tying run at second base, but Florida relievers David Hurst and Darren O'Day retired a batter apiece to strand the runners.

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