Josh Rutledge Having Big Rookie Season

About the only thing that went wrong for Alabama in Sunday's extraordinary 8-7 come-from-behind baseball victory over Florida was the end of a fabulous hitting streak by a Crimson Tide freshman.

Alabama trailed by five runs with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning, but rallied to tie the game in the eighth inning and win it in the ninth. That victory enabled the Crimson Tide to take the series from Florida, two games to one.

Before Alabama got to that deciding ninth inning, the Tide had a chance for a go-ahead run in the eighth inning. Five runs were already across and Tyler Odle was at third base. Kent Mathes had a three-run homer to start Bama scoring in the eighth and three batters later Odle had tripled with two aboard to tie the game at 7-7.

Up to the plate came Alabama freshman Josh Rutledge. Rutledge had not had a hit Sunday and his 28-game hitting streak was in jeopardy. His streak and the Tide's chance to take the lead ended on Rutledge's ground out.

Alabama Coach Jim Wells knew he was getting a good one when Rutledge signed out of Cullman High School last year. He had been a two time all-state performer. As a senior he batted .454 with 12 home runs and 69 runs batted in. He was Alabama Sports Writers Association 5A Player of the Year as Cullman won the state championship.

Now he's the leading candidate for SEC Freshman of the Year and a likely All-SEC selection.

He ranks 10th among all NCAA Division hitters with 85 hits this season. Florida State's Buster Posey leads the nation with 91 hits. Rutledge is first among NCAA Division I freshmen and ranks fifth among shortstops with his 85 hits.

Rutledge leads the SEC with his 85 hits, one more than Vanderbilt's David Macias.

In 51 games, Rutledge leads Alabama with a .379 average (85 for 224) with 50 runs, eight extra base hits and 24 RBI. He also paces the Tide with 27 multi-hit games this season. Rutledge is seeking to become the sixth player in school history to lead the SEC in total hits, joining George Johnson (55, 1967), David Magadan (114, 1983), Mike Twardoski (94, 1986), Dax Norris (105, 1996) and G.W. Keller (107, 1999).

Rutledge is second in the SEC with a .410 (48 for 117) batting average in conference games. Rutledge leads the SEC with 48 hits in league games and is third in plate appearances, third in at-bats, and ranks eighth in on-base percentage (.457). Overall, Rutledge has hit safely in 25 of his 27 SEC games this season and has posted a team best 15 multi-hit games.

Rutledge also leads all SEC freshmen in hitting, total hits and multi-hit games.

In addition to his 28-game hitting streak, Rutledge also hit safely in a school record 23 consecutive SEC games this season. The SEC hitting streak began on March 21 against Vanderbilt and ended with the 0- 5 performance against Florida Sunday. During the streak, Rutledge hit .459 (45 for 98) with 22 runs, five extra base hits and 10 RBI. He also had 14 multi-hit games in the streak. Prior to Sunday's game, he had not been held without a hit since the first SEC series of the season, at Kentucky, on March 16.

Rutledge's work is not done, though. Alabama closes out regular season play with a three-game series at Georgia, today, Friday and Saturday. Georgia has already clinched the SEC Championship.

Georgia (34-17-1, 19-7-1 SEC) is the only SEC team assured of an SEC Tournament berth next week, May 21-25, at Regions Park in Hoover.

Alabama (30-23, 14-13 SEC) is in four-way tie for fourth place with Florida, Kentucky and Ole Miss.

Alabama has won its last four SEC series against Mississippi State, Auburn, Arkansas and Florida. Since March 22, Alabama has posted the third-best record in the SEC with a 14-9 (.609) ledger in its last 23 conference games.

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