Vandy Salvages Last Game Of Series

There are some "if you can't" alternatives in Southeastern Conference baseball. Every team wants to sweep a three-game series. But if you can't sweep, the best thing is to win two games. And if you can't win two games, it's best to win the last game so as to leave the best possible feeling despite losing the series. From that standpoint, Alabama and Vanderbilt both had a measure of success.

The Alabama baseball team had its eight-game winning streak snapped with a 5-4 loss to No. 16 Vanderbilt on a cold and windy Sunday afternoon at Sewell-Thomas Stadium

Alabama, ranked 21st in the nation, had won single games Friday and Saturday to win the series, but the Commodores avoided a sweep with Sunday's victory.

Vanderbilt (16-4, 1-2 SEC) overcame a three-run deficit with three runs in the fifth inning and then pushed across the go-ahead run in the seventh inning to snap its seven-game losing streak to Alabama.

Trailing 4-1 in the fifth, Vanderbilt scored three runs on three hits to tie the game at 4-4. Aaron Westlake opened the inning with a single to left and Curt Casali drew a walk that chased Alabama starter Taylor Wolfe. Junior right hander Tyler White replaced Wolfe and got two quick outs. Andrew Giobbi moved both runners into scoring position with a sacrifice bunt and Connor Harrell followed with a sacrifice fly to center to score Westlake and cut the lead to 4-2.

White then allowed back-to-back two-out singles to Joe Loftus and Anthony Gomez, with the second base hit scoring Casali with the tying run. Drew Fann reached on a throwing error by Alabama third baseman Jake Smith, and Loftus crossed the plate, tying the game at 4-4.

The Commodores broke the tie with a run in the seventh inning to take a 5-4 lead. Harrell reached on a leadoff double, but was thrown out at third base on Loftus' sacrifice bunt attempt. Gomez, who went 3-for-5 in the win, followed with a single up the middle to put runners on the corners with one out. Fann grounded out to shortstop for the second out, but Loftus scored on the play to give the Commodores a 5-4 lead.

Vanderbilt starter Jack Armstrong and reliever Russell Brewer made the lead stand up for the remainder of the game as the Commodores avoided their second straight sweep at the hands of the Crimson Tide.

Armstrong (3-0) allowed four runs (one earned) and eight hits in 6 1/3 innings for the win. He added three walks and three strikeouts. Brewer worked the final 2 2/3 innings for his third save. He wriggled out of a two-out jam in the eighth inning when Alabama junior second baseman Ross Wilson grounded out to shortstop with two runners on base. Brewer has not allowed a run in 11 1/3 innings this season.

White (1-1) took the loss for Alabama after he allowed two runs (one earned) and five hits in three innings of relief.

Alabama (16-2, 2-1 SEC) scored three runs on three hits in the bottom of the fourth inning to take a 4-1 lead. The Commodores helped the Tide's cause with three errors, including a three-base error by Westlake in left field that allowed a run to score.

Sophomore DH Jon Kelton reached on a two-out error by shortstop Brian Harris to get rally started. Senior catcher Cody Trotter followed with a double to center field to score Kelton and give Alabama a 2-1 lead. Junior right fielder Brock Bennett followed with an RBI single to left to score Trotter and put the Tide in front 3-1. Bennett also scored on the play when his single rolled between Westlake's legs and all the way to the wall for a three-base error, giving the Tide a 4-1 lead.

Vanderbilt took its first lead of the series in the top of the first inning when Brian Harris scored on a passed ball by Trotter. Harris led off the game with single and moved to second when Jason Esposito walked to put runners at first and second with no outs. Wolfe, a freshman left hander, got the next two batters out, before a two-out wild pitch and passed ball sent Harris home with the first run of the game.

Alabama answered in the bottom of the first inning, tying the game at 1-1. Sophomore center fielder Taylor Dugas reached on an infield single and moved to second on Wilson's one-out single. Jones followed with an RBI single to center to score Dugas with the tying run.

Alabama plays five of its next six games on the road, beginning with Wednesday's non-conference game against Auburn at the 2010 Capital City Classic at Riverwalk Stadium in Montgomery. The game begins at 7 p.m. The Capital City Classic was originally scheduled for March 9, but was rained out and rescheduled for this week. The Crimson Tide travels to Arkansas next weekend.

Game Notes:

*Alabama (16-2, 2-1 SEC) saw its eight-game winning streak and 18-game home winning streak snapped in Sunday's loss to Vanderbilt. The Crimson Tide also had its seven-game winning streak against the Commodores snapped.

*Vanderbilt scored an unearned run in the top of the first inning, marking the first time this season the Crimson Tide has allowed a run in the first inning.

*Sophomore center fielder Taylor Dugas reached base four times on Sunday and has reached base eight times in the last two games to raise his on-base percentage to .623 this season.

*Junior shortstop Josh Rutledge went 1-for-4 on Sunday to extend his hitting streak to 13 games. He is hitting .407 (22-for-54) during the streak.

*Junior Brock Bennett made his first career start in right field on Sunday and went 2-for-4 with one run scored, one RBI and one stolen base. He started all three games of the series with Vanderbilt and hit .727 (8-for-11) with four runs scored and three RBI. He made his first career SEC start in the series opener and collected a two-run single in the Tide's three-run fourth inning. At one point in the series, he had eight straight hits. For the week, Bennett hit .643 (9-for-14) with five runs scored, one home run and four RBI. He also compiled a .857 slugging mark and a .667 on-base mark. He hit his first career home run earlier this week against Minnesota.

Post-Game Quotes

Head Coach Mitch Gaspard

On the loss:

"We went up 4-1 and had them on the ropes, but they had the three rebound runs and we made a mistake or two at the wrong time. I thought after that (VU starter Jack) Armstrong really competed for them and then gave it over to Brewer who is one of the better closers in the league. We didn't generate a whole lot of offense after that. We had a couple of opportunities and didn't really deliver. I thought it was a pretty well played game on our side but we just came up a run short today."

On the chances they had towards the end:

"We had the right guy (Ross Wilson) up, the three-hole hitter, and we just didn't get the hit. I think we actually had two shots, that one and we also had another one when I felt like we could have tied it up. That's who they are though. (Vanderbilt) pitched well and hit pretty well. Overall on the weekend I feel like we did a pretty nice job at the plate and on the mound. Obviously, going 4-1 in a five-game week and having a chance to win all five is a positive step for our team. It's like I told them, welcome to the SEC. (A) four to one (lead), even after winning two games, is nothing. There are a lot of good teams in this league, a lot of good pitchers, and you just have to play pitch by pitch. Overall, we're continuing to grow as a team. I like the direction we're headed right now."

On Brock Bennett:

"We're kind of looking at the long term here. Bennett had a tremendous weekend, but Bennett's also 165 or 170 (pounds). With him being so hot offensively we wanted to get him in the lineup and so we put him in right field today. Catching is kind of like pitching in how you manage it. Later on if you've caught a guy 20 out of 24 games, they just start to wear down a little bit, especially if he is a smaller type player. Boy, he's certainly established himself, though, all year. Good for him."

On the bullpen situation:

"It's been an ongoing process in the pen, but it just seems like right now whoever we call upon just comes in and does a nice job for us. (Tyler) White, (Nathan) Kilcrease, (Brett) Whitaker, (David) Head and some others are all throwing a lot of strikes right now. That's the key to not walking a lot of guys. When you are throwing strikes, and you have good stuff, and the defense is playing well behind you that's how games are won and lost in the end. We like to get the ball in their hands by the sixth of seventh inning. Our team is very comfortable with the way we're handling the pitching. When you keep the score at bay, whether you are up by a couple or down by a couple, you are always going to have a chance to win. Our shot today was in the eighth. We got a couple of guys on and if we get a gapper right there then we win the game. Those guys have all pitched well and I think they will continue to pitch well and give us chances to win."

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