Bama Beats Florida In Ninth Inning
Howell, who was 0 for 3 as a pinch-hitter and batting for the first time since April 23, laced a two-run double over the head of Florida right fielder Riley Cooper to score Josh Rutledge and Alex Avila with the tying and winning runs as Alabama took game one of the three-game series.
"I was looking for something to drive in the gap or hit in the hole, fortunately I hit it over his head," Howell said. "It was change-up. This is a really good feeling."
Howell's game-winner was even more dramatic after the Crimson Tide had squandered a two-out lead in the top of the inning.
With two outs and leading 5-4, Alabama closer Austin Graham issued back-to-back walks to pinch-hitter Bryson Barber and Cooper, before striking out pinch-hitter Dustin Bamberg for what appeared to be the final out, but the ball got past catcher Mike Sharp and Bamberg was safe at first on the wild pitch to load the bases. UF left fielder Avery Barnes gave the Gators a 6-5 lead with a two-strike single to right to score Barber and Cooper.
Alabama (29-22, 13-12 SEC) responded with a ninth-inning rally of its own to earn its first last at-bat win of the season. Rutledge stroked a one-out single to right field off Clint Franklin, the first of three Gator pitchers in the ninth inning. Alex Avila delivered a two-out single to left off left-hander Tony Davis to put runners and first and second with two outs.
The Tide inserted junior Ryan Rhoden to pinch-hit for Alex Kubal, but Florida called on right-hander Josh Edmondson out of the pen and Coach Jim Wells elected to go with the left-hand hitting Howell, who ripped a first-pitch change up to right field to win the game.
Junior Austin Graham (4-1), who allowed an inherited runner to score in the eighth inning and gave up two runs of his own in the ninth, picked up the win for Alabama. He allowed two runs and one hit in two innings, with five strikeouts and two walks. The two walks were the first allowed by Graham since a start at LSU on April 5. He had not walked a batter in 25 innings out of the bullpen this season until the ninth inning.
The Crimson Tide had taken a 5-4 lead in the bottom of the eighth inning when junior Kent Matthes doubled, moved to third on a wild pitch and scored on junior Kyle Moore's ground out.
Florida (29-19, 13-12 SEC) had tied the game in the top of the eighth inning when pinch-runner Jonathan Piggott scored on Josh Adams sacrifice fly to center field.
Avila slammed a two-run home run with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning to put the Tide in front 4-3. Freshman Ross Wilson reached on a two-out base hit to left field and scored on Avila's team-leading 13th home run of the season.
The Tide scored first with an unearned run in the bottom of the third inning to take a 1-0 lead. Jake Smith and Josh Rutledge collected back-to-back one-out singles to put runners at first and second. Ross Wilson then reached on an error by third baseman Josh Adams and Smith scored from second on the play to give Tide the lead.
Florida scored three runs with two outs in the top of the fifth inning to take a 3-1 lead. Matt den Dekker started the rally as he reached on a one-out infield single to second base. den Dekker was then picked off first base, but a balk was called by umpire Ray Miller, allowing him to advance to second base.
After Clayton Pisani struck out, Cooper blooped a single to right to score den Dekker with the tying run. Munroe followed with a two-run home run to left to put the Gators in front 3-1. It was Munroe's third home run of the season.
Alabama got one run back in the bottom of the fifth and had another runner thrown out at home plate as the Tide reduced the Gators lead to 3-2. Tyler Odle drew a lead off walk and Smith followed with a double off the wall in left field to put runners at second and third with no outs.
Rutledge lifted a sacrifice fly to right field to score Odle from third base as Smith also moved up on the play. Wilson was hit by pitch to put runners on the corners with one out. Wilson advanced to second as Smith was thrown out at home on the back end of an attempted double steal. Alex Avila then popped out to end the inning.
Alabama and Florida meet in game two of this three-game series on Saturday at 4:05 p.m. The Tide will send junior right-hander Austin Hyatt (3-3, 4.84 ERA) to the mound, while Florida will counter with junior left-hander Stephen Locke (3-2, 3.28 ERA). The Crimson Tide will honor its four seniors Matt Bentley, Brian Clark, Josh Copeland and Will Stroup in a pregame ceremony at 3:45 p.m. on Saturday.
The series ends Sunday afternoon, Bama's final home game of the year.
Alabama earned its first walk-off win of the season in Friday's series opener against No. 22 Florida. Sophomore Del Howell's game-winning double marked the Tide's first ninth-inning win of the season.
Alabama improved to 5-5 (.500) against ranked teams this season with Friday's 7-6 win.
The Tide has won eight of its last 11 games, dating back to April 20.
Howell's two-run double of Florida closer Josh Edmondson was his first pinch-hit of the season. He had been hitless in his previous three pinch-hit opportunities for the Tide this season.
Freshman shortstop Josh Rutledge went 2 for 4 in Friday's opener to extend his hitting streak to 27 games, which ties the Alabama freshman record held by David Magadan in 1981. Magadan hit safely in the first 27 games of his UA career in 1981. Rutledge is hitting .436 (51 for 117) with 27 runs, five doubles, one triple and 19 RBI. Rutledge has hit safely in 24 of his 25 SEC games this season, including a 22-game hitting streak.
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