Alabama Baseball Tops Vanderbilt

Alabama sophomore left-hander Adam Morgan held the Southeastern Conference's number one rated offensive team to a season low one run in six-plus innings, leading the 21st ranked Crimson Tide to a 4-1 series opening win over number 18 Vanderbilt at Sewell-Thomas Stadium on Friday night.

It was the first SEC game of the year for Alabama and Vanderbilt.

Morgan held the SEC's top hitting team to one run and six hits in 6 2/3 innings with three strikeouts and three walks.

Vanderbilt (15-3, 0-1 SEC) came into the game hitting .352 and was averaging almost nine runs and 12 hits per game this season. The Commodores managed only eight hits in the loss, their second-lowest hit total of the season. The lowest was seven hits in a loss at UCLA on Feb. 26.

Senior third baseman Jake Smith and junior catcher Brock Bennett provided the offensive support in Friday's win. Smith was 2-for-4 with a solo home run and Bennett went 2-for-3 with two RBI. Smith entered the game with only two hits in his previous 23 at-bats. Bennett, who hit his first career home run against Minnesota on Tuesday night, collected his first career SEC hit and first career SEC RBI in the opener against Vanderbilt.

Alabama (15-1, 1-0 SEC) scored three runs in the bottom of the fourth inning to take a 3-0 lead. Smith jump-started the two-out rally with a solo home run to left field. It was his first home run of the season.

Junior right fielder John David Smelser reached on an error by second baseman Anthony Gomez and then stole second base. After a wild pitch sent Smelser to third base, VU starter Sonny Gray walked sophomore DH Jon Kelton and freshman left fielder Brett Booth to load the bases before junior catcher Brock Bennett lined a single to left center field to score Smelser and Kelton to give the Tide a 3-0 lead.

Morgan (3-0) blanked the Commodores through six innings before allowing a pair of two-out hits in the seventh inning that put the Vanderbilt on the board. Connor Harrell stroked a two-out single to right and scored on an Anthony Gomez double to centerfield for the Commodores only run.

Gray (3-2) suffered his second loss of the season after he allowed three runs and five hits in 5 2/3 innings. He added four walks and four strikeouts.

Junior right hander Nathan Kilcrease replaced Morgan after the RBI double and got Brian Harris to fly out to left field to end the inning. He worked 1 1/3 innings and allowed one hit and struck out one. Junior right hander Brett Whitaker pitched around a leadoff double in the ninth inning to earn his second save of the season.

Alabama extended its lead to 4-1 in the bottom of the seventh inning on a pair of doubles by junior shortstop Josh Rutledge and senior first baseman Clay Jones. Rutledge led off the inning with a double and scored on the Jones double into the left field corner.

The teams will play game two of this three-game series on Saturday at 3:05 p.m. (CST) and the game will be televised regionally by FSN South.

Game Notes:

*Alabama (15-1, 1-0 SEC) has equaled its best start in school history following its 4-1 win over No. 18 Vanderbilt in Friday's series opener. The Crimson has won 15 of its first 16 games to match the 1997 team with the best 16-game record in school history.

*The Crimson Tide has won five of its last six SEC openers with its win over the Commodores on Friday night.

*Alabama has a six-game winning streak against Vanderbilt dating back to the 2008 season. The Tide won the final two games of the series in 2008 and swept a three-game series last year in Nashville.

*Alabama head football coach Nick Saban threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the Tide's SEC opener with Vanderbilt. Saban is 33-8 in his three-year career at Alabama and led the Crimson Tide to the 2009 BCS National Championship with a 14-0 record this past season. It was Alabama's 13th national championship in school history. Junior Chris Smelley was the catcher for Saban's first pitch.

*Junior shortstop Josh Rutledge went 1-for-4 with a double and one run scored on Friday night to extend his hitting streak to 11 games.

*Senior third baseman Jake Smith went 2-for-4 with a solo home run to snap a 2-for-23 slump at the plate. Smith singled in the second inning and hit a two-out, solo home run in the fourth to give the Tide a 1-0 lead.

*Alabama had three players in its starting lineup making their first career SEC start. The list includes junior right fielder John David Smelser, freshman left fielder Brett Booth and junior catcher Brock Bennett.

*Bennett went 2-for-3 with two RBI in his first career SEC start. He collected his first career SEC hit and first career SEC RBI with a two-out, two-run single in the bottom of the fourth inning that gave the Tide a 3-0 lead.

*Alabama has not allowed a run in the first inning in any game this season and outscored the opposition 16-0 in the opening frame.

*Junior right-hander Nathan Kilcrease leads the team with nine relief appearances this season and has stranded all three inherited runners.

*Junior right-hander Brett Whitaker earned his second career save with a scoreless ninth inning against the Commodores.

Post-Game Quotes:

Head Coach Mitch Gaspard

"Any time you face a guy like Sonny Gray who is going to be a first rounder next year. Offensively you just have to keep competing and battling in every at-bat and when he has the one rough inning you have to take advantage of the opportunity he gives you. Jake (Smith) hit the home run and then he got out of the strike zone a little bit and Brock Bennett came up with a big hit that time. On the other end of it you have a matchup on the mound. Morgan competed really well, even though he struggled a tad bit with the strike zone early. He made some big pitches when he really needed to. Bennett also did an excellent job with Kilcrease and Whitaker in the eighth and ninth to close it out."

On the closer situation:

"Well there are really two guys, Whitaker and White. We're comfortable with either of them on the mound. Jake's still an option but right now we're trying to back him off a little bit. We're going some things in the bullpen right now really working on his breaking ball. Right now, Whitaker and White are the guys we really like in the ninth inning."

On Jake Smith breaking out of his slump:

"I thought it was really big for him, he put in a lot of time with Dax (Norris) last week taking extra batting practice. When you're in a big slump like that a lot of times it's more mental than it is physical, you've just got to find a way to get some hits. He got the single early and then put a good swing on the fastball for the home run. So, certainly that's positive news for us because we have to have a guy like that who is driving in runs in the five whole."

On what he and football coach Nick Saban talked about before the game:

"He was actually telling me about his days at Kent State and playing shortstop and he was asking whether he got any warm-up tosses before he hit the mound. We were very grateful for him to come out tonight and I know our players and fans were really excited."

Sophomore left-hander Adam Morgan

On the strike zone:

"The first few innings I just had to find the strike zone a little bit. It didn't take as much as I thought. It was just more wide that it was tall. I missed with a few pitches up and I just had to focus on keeping it lower."

On getting the three runs:

"Of course it took some pressure off. It was a great job because the guy throws hard and he's got a great slider. All of our hitters, one through nine did a great job today."

Junior catcher Brock Bennett

On whether there was a lot of pressure to capitalize against such a good pitcher:

"Coach Dax (Norris) told me when I was on deck that I needed to come up big in this situation. I was looking for one pitch in one spot. He was all over the place at first, and then I got a good pitch to hit."

On the team's energy:

"They talk about pitch-by-pitch every day and how our focus should go game-by-game. Every game is as important as the last one and the next one. We know we need to play hard and with a lot of energy."

On opening up the SEC season:

"It definitely added a lot to be facing a hard-throwing pitcher like Sonny Gray. You just try to stick to the same successful plan and we listen to whatever they have to say. They were right again he told me to just look for one pitch, and I got it."

Senior third baseman Jake Smith

On getting the slump breaking hit:

"It was a big relief. I hadn't been hitting well to this point so to finally get one to find a hole was a really great feeling for me."

On the last time he was in that type of slump:

"One summer, I fouled out like five at-bats in a row. The coaching staff kept confidence in me though and finally got the monkey off my back though. "

On his home run:

"I knew he was throwing a lot of fastballs, and I got a good pitch to hit and then I put a good swing on it."

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