Tide Takes Second Game from Vols

Brandon Belcher delivered a timely two-out base hit in the eighth inning to score two runs as the No. 8 Alabama Crimson Tide wrapped up its 12th Southeastern Conference Western Division championship with a 5-3 win over Tennessee in front of 2,014 fans at Lindsey Nelson Stadium on Saturday night.

Alabama also remains one game behind league-leading Kentucky (42-12, 20-9 SEC) with one game remaining in the regular season. The Crimson Tide needs a win over the Vols on Saturday night and a Georgia win over Kentucky in Athens to earn a share of the overall SEC Championship.

With Saturday's win, Alabama will be the No. 1 or No. 2 seed at next week's SEC Tournament in Hoover. The Crimson Tide will play at either 10 a.m. or 5 p.m. on Wednesday, May 24.

"It's great to win the (SEC) West," Alabama head coach Jim Wells said. "We are playing better now. This has been an amazing year. I am excited. I am excited that we won this game. We had a chance to break down, but we did not. We minimized the damage in that one inning and Belcher came through with the big hit.

"Hopefully we will play well again tomorrow and get some help from Georgia and win the SEC. We have given ourselves a chance on the last day."

Tennessee (31-23, 11-17 SEC) was eliminated from post-season play with its third consecutive loss.

The Crimson Tide overcame two errors and one-run deficit in the final three innings to earn its eighth SEC series win of the 2006 season.

UA snapped a 3-3 tie with two runs in the top of the eighth inning as Belcher delivered a two-out, two-run single to score Evan Bush and Kyle Moore with the go-ahead runs.

Senior catcher Kody Valverde drew a lead off walk and moved to second when he beat UT shortstop Tony Delmonico's throw to second as Bush reached on a fielder's choice.

UT closer Sean Watson entered the game in relief of sophomore left hander James Adkins and recorded a pair of outs.

Pinch hitter Kyle Moore, who attempted a sacrifice bunt, also reached on a fielder's choice when UT catcher J.P. Arencibia fielded his bunt attempt with his bare hand and gunned down Valverde at third base.

Spencer Pennington's slow roller was fielder by UT closer Sean Watson near the third base line and Watson retired the UA first baseman with an acrobatic play. The slow bouncer moved Bush and Moore into scoring position and allowed Belcher to plate both runners with the clutch, two-out hit.

"When I came up to the plate, I was not really thinking the game was on the line," Belcher said. "I got a fast ball and I put a good swing on the ball and was able to get through the hole on the right side."

Adkins (8-6) allowed five runs and seven hits in seven-plus innings for the loss. He added five strikeouts and walked four UA batters.

The Vols mounted a threat in the bottom of the eighth inning as they loaded the bases with only one out. Julio Borbon and Delmonico chased UA starter Wade LeBlanc with back-to-back singles in the eighth inning.

Sophomore right-hander David Robertson relieved LeBlanc and got Chris Kemp to fly out to left before he hit Arencibia to load the bases with one out. Kelly Edmundson then hit a line-drive that was snared at second by Bush, who then relayed to backup first baseman Wes Henderson to double off Arencibia to end the threat.

Robertson got another double play in the ninth inning on a nifty play by Bush at second and then nailed down his ninth save and the SEC West title when he struck out Michael Rivera to end the game.

LeBlanc (9-0) allowed three runs and seven hits in seven-plus innings, with no walks and six strikeouts. He was only charged with one earned run as he won his 10th consecutive decision dating back to last year.

"This week we talked about cutting my pitch count down and I was able to do that tonight," LeBlanc said. "I had more confidence tonight and threw a good bullpen this week. I threw strikes, the defense made the plays behind me and we got the big hits when we needed them."

While Belcher provided the late-inning heroics, Downs was steady all night for the Tide. The senior from Centreville went 4-for-5 for the second straight night and drove each of the Tide's first three runs. He is 8-for-10 in the series and now leads UA with 52 RBI this season.

"That was a big win tonight," Downs said. "I felt good at the plate early in the game and I got some breaks too. We are playing well. Hopefully, we will do that again tomorrow and Georgia will help us out."

GAME NOTES:
*There was a 34-minute weather delay to start the game.
*LeBlanc set the all-time strikeout record with his 308th career strikeout in the first inning of tonight's game. LeBlanc struck out UT shortstop Tony Delmonico on three pitches in the first to move ahead of Brent Carter's (2002-05) previous school record of 307 career strikeouts.
*LeBlanc finished the game with six strikeouts to give him 313 career strikeouts at UA. With six strikeouts in the win, LeBlanc now has 107 strikeouts this season, which is third on the single-season list behind Bobby Sprowl (118) and LeBlanc (108, 2005).
*With his ninth win of the season, LeBlanc is the first UA pitcher to start the season with a 9-0 record since Dennis Walsh in 1991. The Lake Charles, La., native has a 10-game winning streak dating back to last season which ties Lance Cormier for the third-longest winning streak in school history.  


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