Alabama Baseball Takes A Pair

After posting a lopsided 25-1 win in the first game of Saturday's doubleheader, the University of Alabama baseball team needed a safety squeeze bunt in the bottom of the ninth inning off the bat of junior left fielder John David Smelser to post a 4-3 win over the University of Illinois Chicago in the nightcap at Sewell-Thomas Stadium.

The Crimson Tide scored 29 runs and collected 30 hits in Saturday's doubleheader sweep. Junior catcher Brock Bennett and junior shortstop Josh Rutledge had four hits and scored five runs each. Smelser had three hits and drove in the winning run in the nightcap.

Alabama improved to 5-0 on the season after the two contrasting wins on Saturday. UIC falls to 1-6.

Alabama will return to action on Tuesday when the Crimson Tide travels to Birmingham to face the Samford Bulldogs at 6:30 p.m. at Joe Lee Griffin Field. The Crimson Tide will meet the Georgia Bulldogs in a non-conference game on Wednesday at 6:35 p.m. at Regions Park in Hoover.

Game 2: Alabama 4, UIC 3

Smelser's safety squeeze in the bottom of the ninth inning scored junior catcher Brock Bennett from third base with the winning run in the nightcap. Bennett reached on a one-out error by UIC second baseman Matt Serna and then moved to third on redshirt freshman DH Brandt Hendrick's hit-and-run single to right-center field. Smelser swung and missed the first pitch from UIC left-hander Michael Heesch, but laid down the safety squeeze for the game-winner on the next pitch.

Junior right-hander Brett Whitaker (1-0) worked a three-up, three-down ninth inning for his first career win for the Tide. Heesch (0-1) suffered the loss for the Flames as he allowed one unearned run and two hits in 2 1/3 innings.

Alabama had taken a 3-1 lead with three runs in the fourth inning. Senior first baseman Clay Jones opened the scoring with a solo home run to left field. It was his third home run of the season and second of the day. Senior third baseman Jake Smith followed with a double and scored on freshman left fielder Brett Booth's infield hit. Booth advanced to second on a throwing error by third baseman Jason Ganek. Junior catcher Chris Smelley reached on an error when UIC starting pitcher Rafael Garcia muffed a throw from first baseman Ryan Boss as Booth scored to give Alabama a 3-1 lead.

The Flames answered with single runs in the sixth and eighth innings to tie the game at 3-3. In the sixth, UIC left fielder John Rosinski greeted junior right-hander Tyler White with a leadoff double and later scored on Serna's one-out single to right to cut the lead to 3-2. UIC tied the game in the eighth inning when Andy Leonard stroked a leadoff double against right-hander Jason Townsend and scored on Serna's one-out base hit. Serna had two hits and two RBI for UIC.

UIC (1-6) took a 1-0 lead in third inning of game two when centerfielder Steve McGuiggan tripled and scored on Leonard's sacrifice fly.

UA left-hander Jonathan Smart allowed one run and five hits in five innings in his first start of the season. He walked one and struck out three.

Game 1: Alabama 25, UIC 1

Alabama scored multiple runs in five of the six innings en route to a 25-1 win over the UIC in the first game of a doubleheader at Sewell-Thomas Stadium Saturday afternoon. The game was halted after 6 ½ innings due to the 10-run rule.

The starters played only three innings as the Crimson Tide built a 15-0 lead. Alabama scored four runs in the first inning and then added four more runs in the second to take an 8-0 lead. Jones swatted a three-run home run in the second inning. Alabama tacked on seven runs in the third inning, highlighted by Booth's grand slam, his first career dinger.

Bennett, who made his first career start, went 4-for-5 with four runs scored and two RBI. Rutledge was 4-for-5 with one RBI. He also scored five runs in the win.

The Alabama reserves entered the game in the fourth inning and were a collective 10-for-15 with eight RBI. Smelser was 3-for-3 with two RBI and sophomore first baseman Jon Kelton went 2-for-3 with three RBI. Whitaker went 2-for-2 with one RBI and scored twice.

Alabama added a run in the fourth and three more in the fifth inning to take a 19-1 lead. The Crimson batted around in the sixth inning and scored six more runs. Whitaker had an RBI single, junior right-fielder David Kindred added an RBI double and Bennett chipped in an RBI single. Kelton's two-run single capped the inning.

A trio of Alabama pitchers combined on the one-hitter. Junior right-hander Jimmy Nelson (1-0) picked up the win with five solid innings. He allowed one run and one hit with no walks and six strikeouts.. Freshman left-hander Taylor Wolfe worked a scoreless sixth inning and freshman right-hander Trey Pilkington worked a scoreless seventh inning.

Chris Rutta's two-out home run in the fourth inning was the Flames lone hit in the game.

UIC starter Eric Wyman (0-2) suffered the loss after allowing six runs and four hits in one-plus inning on the mound.

Game Notes

*Alabama is 5-0 for the first time since the 2002, when UA opened with nine straight wins.

*The 25 runs scored in game one of Saturday's doubleheader are the most by Alabama since a 26-7 win against Kentucky in Lexington on March 18, 2001. The 25 runs are the most scored by Alabama in home game since the 1999 season when UA beat Niagara 27-0 on March 7 and Kansas State 27-5 on March 23.

*The 24-run margin of victory was the highest since a 30-4 win at UAB on April 14, 1999. In that win over UAB, Alabama hit an NCAA record 13 home runs.

*A trio of Alabama pitchers – Jimmy Nelson, Taylor Wolfe and Trey Pilkington - combined on the one-hitter in the opener. The last time Alabama had a one-hitter was March 4, 2001 when Lance Cormier one-hit Winthrop in a 12-0 win.

*The Crimson Tide has used 27 different players in its five games this season, including 18 position players and nine pitchers. Alabama has started 18 different players, including 15 position players and three pitchers. Alabama's first-time starters today included junior catcher Brock Bennett and junior pitcher Jonathan Smart.

*Several Alabama players recorded their first career hit in Saturday's double header, including freshman outfielder Matt Taylor (1-for-3, RBI), junior DH Brett Whitaker (2-for-2, 2 R, RBI), junior outfielder David Kindred (1-for-2, R, 2B, RBI) and junior catcher Chris Smelley (1-for-3).

*Freshman left fielder Brett Booth (.429, 6-for-14, HR, 7 RBI) and senior first baseman Clay Jones (.421, 8-for-19, 3 HR, 8 RBI) are the only UA players with a hit in all five games. The duo is a combined 14-for-33 (.424) with four home runs and 15 RBI this season.

*Alabama recorded its third outfield assist of the series when right fielder Andrew Miller threw out Ryan Meehan for an inning-ending double play in the second inning of game one. Taylor Dugas, Cal Tinsley and Miller have the three outfield assists this weekend.

Post-Game Quotes

Head Coach Mitch Gaspard

On the Saturday doubleheader:

"It was just one of those types of games that got away from them early and we were really hitting well. Not just our starters but even when we got to our bench players, they came in and contributed as well. We had a lot of big hits throughout, and got a good start from Nelson and then the two freshmen came in and pitched really well. It was just a really clean game throughout. But you know how baseball is, you knew after that first game that it was a doubleheader and it was going to be tough. So, we got a good start from Smart and the bullpen did a pretty nice job and Whitaker was really good in the ninth, so we decided to be really aggressive offensively and just see what happens. We called a hit and run and we executed well and J.D. (John David Smelser) got the squeeze bunt for the win. I told the team the key to playing a lot of guys is that when they can come in and execute that's what puts a good team together."

On his thoughts when Smelser missed the first signal for the game-winning squeeze bunt:

"I was hoping he was going to hit a fly ball. Well, a safety squeeze is really a pretty safe play. If you get a good bunt down it's a good play. We work on that every day and they know that in that situation it's what we want to do. He did a great job too, he put it in the right spot where they couldn't really defense it and Bennett took off at third base. It exactly the way you want it."

On whether Booth has forced his way into the lineup:

"Yes. Brett started out all fall and early spring catching and playing third base.. Really, his first two at-bats last Saturday were so good and aggressive, and he continued that on Sunday so we had to figure out a way to get him in there consistently. He hadn't had a whole lot of reps in left field but he's a confident kid, very aggressive, and is a lot of we talk about wanting our kids to be so we gave him some extended playing time and he's certainly taking advantage of it.

Junior right fielder John David Smelser

On missing the first bunt signal in the last at-bat:

"I swung at the first pitch and fouled it off, and when I looked over there I could tell he was kind of mad. I eventually got it down though."

On the mindset of the team in the second game of the double-header, following a blow out in game one:

"It's tough when you win a game big like that; you either come back and don't play as well or the other team comes back and plays better. It's tough playing the second half of a double header anyway. It had been a long day, but I think our team was mentally in both games and played well in both games."

Freshman left fielder Brett Booth

On his grand slam:

"It was great. That kid was struggling with his control a little bit and I just came up and waited on the fastball. When I saw that fastball come in, I put a real good swing on it. It just felt good to get that first one out of the way.

On whether he is surprised that he has reached safely in his first five games:

"I'm not surprised, sometimes it's tough coming back after taking a year off, but the 1-5 hitters have been working pitchers really hard and they are usually worn down when they get to the middle and later part of the line up. So I get a lot of good pitches to hit.

On the difference in the two games:

"Coach (Gaspard) has talked all year about three game series and how things will go smoothly Friday and Saturday but when Sunday rolls around sometimes you don't execute as well. A lot of times those games come down to the end and you have to battle to the last inning. Their starter pitched well, and so did ours. It all just came down to execution at the end of the game.

Junior catcher Brock Bennett

On his first start and his four-hit game:

"It was a great opportunity to finally get a start and I'm glad that I could capitalize and get four hits. I'm glad coach (Gaspard) finally gave me the opportunity to show what I can do. It's just been hard work these last three years, and hopefully I can keep doing it.

On the offense in the first game:

"The whole dugout was into the game the whole time and with all the action and everything we had going on made it a lot of fun. It was good to get everyone involved like that."

On what winning one game by 24 and one game by one means to the team:

"Definitely, just look at how many players we've played in the first five games. Everybody is contributing and everyone has a part. It's just been a lot of fun so far this year and we have a lot of balance."

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