Homers power Tide over La-Lafayette

Beau Hearod and Al Hecklinski each hit two-run home runs as the University of Alabama baseball team opened the 2003 season with an impressive 9-3 win over the University of Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns the first game of the Minute Maid Park College Classic here in Houston.

Hearod and Hecklinski combined four hits and five RBI as Alabama won its 10th straight season opener, including all nine under head coach Jim Wells.

"I am really satisfied with today's game," Wells said. "We really did not know what to expect with so many new guys. We knew with (Taylor) Tankersley pitching we would have a chance with him on the mound. I just did not know how we would respond swinging the bat or playing defense. I thought we did OK."

Alabama had 12 hits in the opener, which included five players with two hits each. The Crimson Tide also made two errors, which lead to one unearned run.

Hearod, a native of Jennings., La., smacked a two-run home run in the bottom of the fourth inning off UL Lafayette ace Andy Gros to stake the Crimson Tide to a 4-1 lead. Junior designated hitter Brad Van Winkle singled for his first collegiate hit ahead of Hearod's long home run to left-center field. Hearod capped the scoring with a two-out RBI double in the eighth inning.

Hecklinski, a native of Birmingham and transfer from UAB, doubled and scored the first run of the year for Alabama in the bottom of the second inning. He added a towering, two-run home run to left field in the seventh as Alabama built a 7-3 lead.

In addition to Hearod and Hecklinski's heroics at the plate, three other Alabama players also had two hits in the win over UL Lafayette. Senior center fielder Travis Garner collected two hits and one RBI for the Crimson Tide. Garner also tied an Alabama single-game record with two sacrifice bunts. Adam Pavkovich was the last UA player with two sac bunts in one game and he did it twice last year.

Van Winkle and true freshman third baseman Evan Bush (Gadsden) also added two hits. Bush, a 2002 graduate of Southside HS, had two hits in each of his first two at-bats for Alabama.

Sophomore left-hander Taylor Tankersley and senior closer Brian Reed held the Ragin' Cajuns in check and pitched out of trouble in the sixth and seventh innings with the game on the line.

Tankersley (1-0) worked 6.1 innings and allowed three runs and seven hits in his first opening day start for the Crimson Tide. He added eight strikeouts and walked three before leaving with with runners and first and second and one out in the seventh inning.

Reed, who led UA and ranked second in the SEC with nine saves last year, struck out the next two ULL hitters dashing any hopes of the ULL comeback. Reed worked 2.2 innings and did not allow a run or hit en route to his first save of the year. He added two strikeouts and one walk.

Tankersley escaped a jam of his own in the sixth inning, as ULL put runners on the corners with no outs. Tankersley then stuck out Matt Levering and Justin Morgan before Dallas Morris ended the inning with a pop to Allen Rice at second base.

ULL (2-3), losers of three straight games, benefitted from a two-out error to take a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning. First baseman Phillip Hawke drilled a two-out single to left field and moved to second on a balk. Rhett Buras reached on an error by UA first baseman Zac Welch, allowing Hawke to score the unearned run from second base.

Alabama (1-0) answered with a pair of runs on the bottom of the second inning to take its first lead of the game. Junior left fielder Al Hecklinski and sophomore first baseman Zac Welch led off the inning with back-to-back doubles to put runners on the corners. Hecklinski had to hold between second and third as Welch's towering double hit off the top of the right field wall just out of the reach of Kevin Preau's glove.

Junior shortstop Adam Pavkovich and senior catcher John Marshall followed with infield ground outs to score Hecklinski and Welch as UA took a 2-1 lead.

The Crimson Tide added two more runs in the third inning to take a 4-1 lead after three innings. Van Winkle singled to right field for his first career hit for the Crimson Tide. Senior right fielder Beau Hearod followed with a towering home run to left-center field to out the Crimson Tide up 4-1.

ULL cut the lead in half in the top of the fourth inning when Corey Coles homered into the right field bleachers, his first of the 2003 season.

The Ragin' Cajuns added another run in the fifth inning when No. 9 hitter Dallas Morris reached on a double and scored on a two-out infield base hit by Hawke.

ULL threatened in the sixth inning and seventh innings against Tankersley, but did not score

Alabama extended its lead to 5-3 in the bottom of the sixth inning when Marshall singled to left, moved to second on a balk and scored on Garner's two-out infield single.

Van Winkle singled to the open the seventh inning and chase Gros from the game. After Hearod flew out to right field, Hecklinski launched a shot into the left field bleachers off reliever Craig Schambrough, that extended the UA lead to 7-3.

Gros (1-1) allowed six runs and 10 hits in six-plus innings of work for the Cajuns. He did not issue a walk or record a strikeout.

Gros, was the ace of the ULL staff on their 2000 College World Series team as a sophomore. Last year as a junior, he went 11-4 with a 2.29 ERA, which included a pair of wins over LSU (5-0 and 7-0).

UA capped the scoring with two more runs in the eighth inning. Bush was hit a pitch to open the winning and later scored on a wild pitch. Rice reached on a fielder's choice and scored on Hearod's two-out double to left.

Alabama returns to action on Saturday at 11 a.m. against the No. 13 Houston Cougars. Sophomore lefty Brent Carter will pitch for Alabama. The Crimson Tide closes out the tournament with an 11 a.m. game Sunday against the No. 2 Rice Owls. Junior left-hander Jeffrey Norris is scheduled to start against former Alabama pitcher Josh Baker.

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