Tide Evens Series

After a bench-clearing fracas highlighted a wild series opener between Alabama and Florida last night, Saturday afternoon's game produced a business-like 7-2 Crimson Tide win, as Wade LeBlanc returned to the mound and baffled Florida hitters.

Box Score

"It's nice to have some normalcy where the focus was on baseball," Alabama Coach Jim Wells said. "We did a better job of concentrating. Hopefully this will help to get our confidence up."

LeBlanc, who had started every Friday night game of the season until last night, was given an extra day's rest for the final home series of the season, and he looked fresh, picking up his eighth win of the season in a record-setting day.

"He had better command than he has in some time," Wells said. "For us to go further than the next couple of weeks we're going to need him to stay in the game longer."

LeBlanc (8-0) struck out eight batters in his six and two third innings, throwing 126 pitches, giving up four hits and four walks.

"I think I wore out towards the sixth inning and we need to work on that," he said.

The Crimson Tide junior tallied his 101st strikeout of the season and the 307th for his Alabama career. LeBlanc tied Brent Carter for the career mark in strikeouts, and he became the only pitcher in Crimson Tide history with 100 or more strikeouts in back-to-back seasons.

"That's pretty exciting but it makes it all the better when the team comes out and wins," LeBlanc said. "The guys came out and hit behind me and that makes it a lot easier."

Florida went hitless through the first four innings, but threatened to score with back-to-back Gator singles to begin the fifth inning before LeBlanc struck out the next two batters and coaxed a fly out to right to end the inning. Matt LaPorta led off the sixth inning with a solo home run and Adam Davis added his own solo shot with two men out in the seventh for the Gators' only runs.

Alabama (35-17 overall, 16-10 SEC) regained the sole lead in the SEC Western Division after Arkansas lost 7-3 Saturday to Ole Miss. Alabama entered the day two games behind Kentucky in the overall conference standings, and Kentucky was leading Mississippi State 3-1 in the sixth inning when this story was published.

Florida (26-26 overall, 8-18 SEC) was not mathematically eliminated from the eight-team Southeastern Conference tournament with the loss, but all practical hopes of post-season play were dashed.

Spencer Pennington smashed a three-run homer in the fifth inning and drove in a pair of runs in the third inning to provide the bulk of the Alabama offense. His blast two right field was the third of his career, and his second in the last two weeks. Pennington's five RBIs on the day was a career high and his first multi-RBI game of the season. The outburst came a day after Pennington was temporarily knocked unconscious after a collision in the field Friday night.

"I felt really good this morning," Pennington said. "I saw some balls well and had a few big hits."

Alabama broke open a scoreless tie with four runs in the third, sending eight men to the plate, racking up four hits, a walk and a hit batsman to open up the lead. Pennington's single in the fifth inning – off the glove of Florida second baseman Brandon McArthur – drove in two runs, and Pennington later scored on Brandon Belcher's single (David Ferazza was thrown out trying to score to end the fifth).

Ryan Rhoden, who returned to the starting lineup after Kent Matthes got the start in right field last night, drove in the first run of the game with a bases-loaded groundout on a chopper to shortstop, driving in Matt Downs who had been hit by a pitch.

Despite hitting the ball hard in four of his five at bats, Tide leadoff man Emeel Salem had his 13-game hitting streak stopped with an 0 for 5 day at the plate.

Jake McCarter came out of the bullpen to finish the game, working a perfect two and a third innings.

Kody Valverde and Gavin Dickey, who were ejected after beginning a bench-clearing scrum Friday night, served a one-game suspension Saturday and are expected to be in the lineup Sunday's game.

The Sunday series finale begins an hour earlier than the usual Sunday start time, at 1 p.m.

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