Alabama Baseball Slips By Auburn
Auburn jumped on top with a blast to right off the bat of DH Kevin Patterson to lead off the top of the second inning, and one out later, shoddy defense by the Tide got the Tigers a 2-0 lead. Justin Fradejas singled, stole second, took third on a wild pitch and scored on a safety squeeze bunt.
Fradejas would have scored in any event, but when Ross Wilson failed to cover first, the Tigers got another runner on who later scored on Casey McElroy‘s RBI single. Heading to the Alabama half of the second, Auburn led 3-0.
With starter Jimmy Nelson struggling (and home plate ump Scott Kennedy squeezing both pitchers), Gaspard sent David Head to loosen up in the pen with no outs in the top of the third. After stellar defensive plays by catcher Brock Bennett on a caught stealing and shortstop Josh Rutledge on a 360-degree turn and throw, lefty-swinging Patterson struck again with an opposite field shot for a 4-0 Auburn lead.
Bennett reached on a error by Tigers shortstop McElroy to open the Tide third, and Taylor Dugas walked on four pitches. After Rutledge struck out, Wilson drove a Cole Nelson pitch over the wall in left center to trim AU's lead to 4-3.
"I got a good pitch to hit, was able to hit it hard, and got it out of the park," said Wilson. "It gave us a little momentum that we really needed."
Gaspard pulled Jimmy Nelson when Auburn's first two batters reached in the fifth, and Head came in to get the Tide out of the jam with some help from Wilson, who got an unassisted double play to end the rally.
Head was ejected by Kennedy when he hit Patterson with a 75-mph breaking ball that didn't break to begin the sixth, so Gaspard, after protesting vehemently, had to bring in righty Jason Townsend. By rule, Gaspard was also ejected from the contest.
"There was no intent," said Gaspard. "The guy (Patterson) already had two home runs, and we were just trying to get him out with a breaking ball that missed." Gaspard said he was unsure how many games Head will miss due to his ejection. Gaspard is slated to coach Sunday in the finale.
Auburn loaded the bases in the seventh, but Townsend became the first Tide pitcher to retire Patterson with a 2-2 breaking ball that produced a swing and a miss and kept the Tiger lead at one.
Dugas singled with one out in the Tide seventh, prompting Tigers Coach John Pawlowski to call on righty Austin Hubbard. Rutledge singled on the first pitch from Hubbard, but Wilson went down swinging for the second out. Clay Jones walked to load the bases, and Jake Smith drew a walk on a 3-2 pitch to tie the game.
Rutledge now has a 21-game hitting streak.
Kelton moved Bama out front for the first time with a looping liner that fell in front of center fielder Fradejas for a pair of RBI's. Bama took a 6-4 lead to the eighth, and needed to get six outs to clinch the series.
Acting manager Dax Norris moved Smith from third to the mound to start the eighth. Smith walked the first man he faced before getting a strikeout, giving up a hit, and getting a great play from Dugas, who ran down a Creed Simpson drive to right center, caught the ball, hit the cut-off man, and doubled off a straying Tiger runner at second to get Smith out of the jam.
Smith came out for the ninth, but not on the mound. He returned to third in favor of Nathan "Peanut" Kilcrease, who seems to have inherited the closer's role for Alabama. Kilcrease gave up a run on two hits before striking out pinch-hitter Wes Gilmer to end the game.
NOTES: Megan Hulme, a sophomore at Ohio State, threw out the first pitch Saturday. Hulme began a Bama fan via the internet a while back and now listens to or watches every game she can on the web. A four-time leukemia survivor, Hulme was in Tuscaloosa as part of the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Townsend got his first win with a stellar job out of the pen. The junior went two innings and gave up no runs, which Gaspard called "the key to the game."
Kilcrease, generously listed at 5-foot-6, if actually "about 5-5," according to Gaspard, who added that both his daughters, an eleventh-grader and a seventh grader, "look down at him. "Peanut" got his first save of the year, but is he now the Tide closer? "I would say so," said Gaspard. "When he comes in, he makes them put it in play." Kilcrease hit 89 on the radar gun while lowering his ERA to 2.05.
Auburn's Gilmer, who went down swinging to end the game, is the great-nephew of Alabama football great Harry Gilmer. The younger Gilmer is a junior from Pinson who is hitting .297 off the bench for the Tigers.
Smith, reported clocked at 94 mph earlier in the week against Jacksonville State, topped out around 88 Saturday, but got the job done (with Dugas' help.)
The Tide (19-7, 4-4 SEC) and Tigers (17-10, 4-4) square off Easter Sunday at 2:05 p.m. CT, with Gaspard leaning towards starting true freshman Taylor Wolfe. Gaspard said that Tyler White will be in the Sunday mix if healthy, but the sophomore left the dugout in the second inning of Friday's win with a virus and was not on hand Saturday.
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