Tide Baseball Steals Win

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A struggling University of Alabama baseball team resorted to theft Sunday afternoon to take the final game of a three-game series against Vanderbilt. A surprise steal by first baseman Matt Bentley enabled Bama to avoid its first three-game sweep in Nashville since the 1986 season.

In the top of the 10th inning, Alabama had runners and first and third and two outs against Vanderbilt closer Casey Weathers. Bentley, the Tide's 6-3, 220-pound first baseman, stole home on a straight steal to give the Tide a one-run lead in an eventual 5-3 win at Hawkins Field.

"It was a first and third force balk move," Bentley said. "We ran the way you are supposed to against a left-hand pitcher, but not the right way against the right-hander, but it worked out for us. That is first time and probably the last time I will ever steal home again."

Weathers (5-2) suffered the loss after walking pinch-hitter Del Howell and Bentley to open the inning. Pinch-hitter Jeff Texada laid down the perfect sacrifice bunt -- the fourth of the day by Alabama -- to move both runners into scoring position.

Senior shortstop Greg Paiml slapped a ground ball to the right side of the infield and first baseman Brad French threw out pinch-runner Kyle Moore at home for the second out before the Tide turned to trickery in the inning.

Bentley then darted for home with Weathers freezing on the mound in disbelief. Weathers throw was late to the plate as Bentley slid across home plate with the go-ahead run. Belcher then smashed a single up the middle to score Paiml from second base for a two-run lead.

"When you are struggling to scored runs, something has to happen for you," Alabama Coach Jim Wells said. "We caught the pitcher off guard and he froze on the mound.

"We have been struggling to score runs the last few weeks and we had so many opportunities to score again today. Matthes had the big hit in the ninth inning and Avila hit two big home runs."

Alabama (20-14, 5-7 in the Southeastern Conference) forced extra innings when sophomore Kent Matthes slapped a two-out single to right field off Weathers to scored Belcher from second base and tie the game at 3-3.

Sophomore right-hander Austin Hyatt, pitching in just his second career SEC game, benefitted from the late inning heroics to earn his first career SEC win. Hyatt (3-1) threw 3 1/3 scoreless innings and allowed three hits, three walks and fanned four.

Vanderbilt stranded 16 base runners in the loss to Alabama, including eight in the final four innings thanks to some clutch pitching by Hyatt. He stranded two inherited runners in the seventh inning to keep the Tide in the game and set up the late-inning win. Hyatt has stranded all 10 inherited base runners this year in 10 relief appearances.

Alabama left 12 men on base and was just 2-for-14 with runners in scoring position in the series finale.

The Crimson Tide scored four runs in the final three innings to beat the number one-ranked Commodores and improve to 14-14 in Alabama's all-time games when playing against the nation's top ranked team.

Sophomore Alex Avila hit his second home run of the game in the eighth inning to close the gap to 3-2. Avila gave Alabama its first lead of the game with a solo home run in the second inning to put UA in front 1-0. Avila has seven home runs this season and 11 in his UA career. The Vandy game was his first career multi home run game.

Vanderbilt (29-5, 7-5 SEC) grabbed the lead in the bottom of the fourth inning with two runs on four hits, but left the bases loaded when Dominic de la Osa grounded out to end the inning.

de la Osa's eighth home run of the season and second of the week stretched the Commodores lead to 3-1 in the seventh inning, setting up the late-inning heroics by the Crimson Tide.

Alabama returns home Tuesday when the Crimson Tide hosts Southeastern Louisiana at 6:30 p.m. (CDT) at Sewell-Thomas Stadium. Alabama hosts Georgia next weekend in SEC play in Tuscaloosa.

GAME NOTES:

*Alabama improved to 14-14 (.500) all-time against the No. 1 team in the nation following Sunday's 5-3 win at Vanderbilt.

*Alabama improved to 2-4 in extra inning games.

*Vanderbilt dropped to 23-1 this season when leading after eight innings.

*Sophomore right-hander Tommy Hunter (Indianapolis, Ind.) made his first SEC start of the 2007 season on the mound against Vanderbilt. Hunter has made five starts this season, with last coming against No. 17 Nebraska March 10, 2007.

Sophomore designated hitter Alex Avila (Pembroke Pines, Fla.) recorded his first career two home run game on Sunday. He hit his sixth home run of the year in the second inning and added his seventh home run in the seventh. Avila is tied with Kent Matthes for the team lead with seven home runs. Avila now has 12 career home runs.

*Avila's solo home run marked the first RBI hit for Alabama since the fifth inning against LSU Sunday, April 1, 2007. The drought was a span of 32 2/3 innings between run-scoring hits.

*Sophomore right-hander Austin Hyatt (Marietta, Ga.) stranded two inherited runners in the seventh inning when Vandy catcher Shea Robin lined out to left field. Hyatt has stranded all 10 inherited runners this season in 10 relief appearances.


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