Tide Wins, Gets Sweep Of Hogs

It now appears that pitching has joined hitting in the Alabama baseball arsenal. That was quite a combination as the Crimson Tide swept Arkansas and moved to within a half game of the Southeastern Conference lead with one week to go in regular season play.

Alabama's bullpen came up big for the second straight day, stuffing two late Arkansas rallies as the No. 21 Crimson Tide handed the No. 11 Razorbacks a 6-5 loss at Sewell-Thomas Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

The Tide offense hit five home runs on Sunday, including a two-run blast by senior right fielder Kent Matthes, who is tied for the national lead with 25 home runs. Alabama has hit 100 home runs this season, marking the fourth time in school history UA has hit triple-digit homers in a season.

The win keeps Alabama in the thick of the SEC Championship race. The Crimson Tide (35-15, 17-9 SEC) is one-half game behind SEC-leading LSU (39-13, 18-9 SEC). Alabama is one-half game ahead of third-place Ole Miss (37-15, 17-10) and Florida (35-17, 17-10) with three games to play. Alabama closes out the season next weekend at Auburn, while LSU plays at Mississippi State.

Alabama has won seven straight games and six straight SEC games. Since April 1, Alabama is 18-5 in its last 23 games and has won 10 of its last 11 and 14 of its last 17 SEC games.

Arkansas (31-17, 14-12 SEC) dropped to fourth in the SEC West and sixth overall with Sunday's loss. The Razorbacks did back in to the SEC Tournament despite its three losses to Alabama.

Sophomore right-hander Nathan Kilcrease worked out of major jam in the ninth inning to earn his second save of the season, retiring the Razorbacks' 3-4-5 hitters in order with the tying run at third base.

Chase Leavitt led off the ninth inning with a triple down the right field line. Matthes had trouble picking up the ball and claimed the ball was trapped in the fence, but the first base umpire signaled the ball playable and Leavitt had the leadoff triple against sophomore right-hander Tyler White.

Kilcrease came in from the bullpen and got Arkansas' home run leader Andy Wilkins on a hard line-out to first baseman Wes Henderson, who entered the game for defense in the ninth inning. With the infield still playing in, Tom Hauskey, who had two doubles in his first two at-bats, grounded out to shortstop Josh Rutledge for the second out. Arkansas second baseman Ben Tschepikow took a called third strike to end the game.

"Coach (Jim Wells) said compete hard, throw strikes and let the defense help me," Kilcrease said after the game. "When I threw the slider to Wilkins and he hit, I had not even turned my head. (Henderson) was in the right place at the right time and made a great play. After that, I just tried to fill up the zone and get people out and things went our way today."

Junior right-hander Adam Scott and White combined with Kilcrease to throw 4 2/3 innings of relief in Sunday's series finale. The trio allowed only one run and three hits, with no walks and seven strikeouts. The bullpen also stranded five of the six inherited runners and retired all three first batters they faced.

"The bullpen came in and did things you are supposed to do to win," Alabama Coach Jim Wells said after the sweep. "That's a huge thing for us because we can hit and score runs and now if we get some confidence in that area, we have a real chance."

Scott (3-1), who earned the win with 2 2/3 innings of relief, worked his own magic in the fifth inning retiring both batters he faced with the bases loaded and only one out.

Arkansas had tied the game in the top of the fifth against UA starter Adam Morgan. Collin Kuhn led off the inning with a double and moved to third when Leavitt was retired on a circus catch by Tyler Odle in left field. A wild pitch by Morgan allowed Kuhn to score from third base and tie the game at 4-4. Morgan walked the next two hitters to load the bases, before Wells brought in Scott.

The right-hander struck out Jarrod McKinney for the second out and Zack Cox lined out to Rutledge as the Razorbacks left the bases loaded.

Junior DH Jake Smith put the Tide ahead to stay with his 17th home of the season in the bottom of the sixth inning.

The Crimson Tide had chances to blow the game open in the seventh and eighth innings, but stranded five of its eight base runners in the game in those two frames giving Arkansas hope.

Alabama did add an insurance run in the bottom of the seventh inning to extend the lead to 6-4. Sophomore second baseman Ross Wilson kept the inning alive with a two-out base hit and later scored on junior third baseman Brandon May's double down the left field line. Smith flied out to deep center field to end the inning, leaving two insurance runs in scoring position.

Arkansas put runners on second and third with no outs in the eighth inning against Scott, when McKinney walked and Cox doubled past a diving Clay Jones at first base. Scott Lyons reached on a fielder's choice when McKinney was caught in a run-down between third and home. McKinney made it back to third base safely when May missed the tag, but the Tide did get an out as May tagged out Cox, who had run from second base to third base on the play. McKinney scored on a wild pitch to cut the lead to 6-5 before White struck out pinch-hitter Jacob House and Kuhn to end the inning.

Alabama loaded the bases in the eighth against Arkansas closer Stephen Richards, but did not score. Senior catcher Vin DiFazio and freshman left fielder Taylor Dugas, who both entered the game for defense in the top of the inning, stroked back-to-back one-out singles. Senior center fielder Alex Kubal walked to load the bases before Richards struck out both Rutledge and Wilson to keep the Razorbacks hopes alive.

Kilcrease ended those hopes in the ninth as he retired all three batters he faced with the tying run at third base.

Arkansas scored three unearned runs in the bottom of the first inning to take a 3-0 lead. Kuhn led off the game and reached on a throwing error by Rutledge. Wilkins followed with a one-out double and Hauksey doubled to left field to score Kuhn with the first run. Wilkins then scored on a passed ball by senior catcher Kyle Moore and Tschepikow's sacrifice fly scored Hauskey.

Alabama tied game with three runs in the bottom of the third inning on home runs Kubal and Matthes. Kubal led off the inning with a line drive home run to right field, his third of the season. Wilson drew a one-out walk and scored on Matthes' two-run home run that cleared the trees beyond the left field wall. It was Matthes' 25th home run of the season, tying him with Middle Tennessee State's Bryce Brentz for the national lead.

Clay Jones' led off the fourth inning with his seventh home run of the season to give Alabama a 4-3 lead.

Arkansas starter Brett Eibner (4-4) allowed five runs and six hits in six innings and was the losing pitcher.

Alabama will play its final non-conference game and final home game against Jacksonville State on Tuesday at 6:35 p.m. The Crimson Tide wraps up the 2009 regular-season at Auburn in a Thursday, Friday, Saturday series on the Plains.

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