Tide Baseballers Are Playing ‘Big'

Take Alabama baseball juniors Brock Bennett and Nathan Kilcrease together and you'd still need a large sack of baseball bats to add up in weight to former Bama football player Terrence Cody. But both Bennett and Kilcrease have plenty of heart and talent, as demonstrated again last weekend.

Brock Bennett came to Alabama as about a 130-pound walk-on and has built himself up to perhaps 170. Late last week, Bennett was named to the Johnny Bench Award watch list as one of the nation's top catchers. Right on cue, Bennett delivered two game-winning hits in a double-header sweep of Mississippi State. And to put frosting on the performance cake, the second game ended with Bennett throwing out a Mississippi State runner attempting to steal second base.

Nathan Kilcrease comes by his nickname honestly. "Peanut," generously listed as 5-6 and 160 pounds, has saved Alabama time and again. Literally. There's not much about Alabama's 2010 baseball team to have faith in, but Kilcrease has been outstanding in late-innings pitching relief, and picked up a win and a save last weekend.

Following its first Southeastern Conference series sweep over long-time Western Division rival Mississippi State, Coach Mitch Gaspard announced the Alabama coaching staff had selected Bennett, Kilcrease, junior shortstop Josh Rutledge and junior left-hander Jonathan Smart as players of the week.

"I'm proud of our team after really what we've been through the last month, knowing what was at stake this weekend and we desperately needed the sweep to kind of get some momentum going," Gaspard said. "They were put in some tough situations all weekend, and we fell behind. I think it shows the true character of our players.

"We had a lot of outstanding performances this weekend, but Brock and Josh stood out on offense. Bennett had two game winning RBI in Sunday's doubleheader and Rutledge had some key hits all weekend. Peanut continues to be our best option out of the bullpen and he had another great weekend. Smart gave us four good innings on Sunday and that was his best outing of the year."

Bennett had a walk-off single in game one on Sunday, scoring Andrew Miller with a one-out base hit in the eighth inning to give the Tide a 9-8 win. Alabama had trailed 7-0 in the fourth inning. In game two, Bennett added a two-out, two-run single in the Tide's five-run sixth inning as UA rallied for a 6-4 win. The Crimson Tide has nine come-from-behind wins this year.

Rutledge hit .417 (5-for-12) in the series with one home run and four RBI. He also scored two runs. In the series opener, he had an RBI single in the second inning as UA built a 3-0 lead. He added a two-run home run in the fourth inning to give Alabama a 5-2 lead.

On Sunday, he had an RBI single in the Tide's eight-run fourth inning and then scored the tying run on Ross Wilson's go-ahead, three-run home run. In the series finale, Rutledge led off the sixth inning with a single to ignite UA's five-run rally and second comeback win of the day.

Kilcrease earned a win and save in the Mississippi State series. He worked 5 2/3 innings and allowed one run and four hits with six strikeouts and two walks. He picked up his fourth save of the season in the series opener when he retired all five batters he faced with four strikeouts. Kilcrease was the winning pitcher in the Tide's 9-8 series-clinching win on Sunday, with four innings in relief.

Smart picked up his second win of the season and first SEC win as the Tide completed the three-game sweep against Mississippi State. Smart worked four innings and allowed one run and four hits with one strikeout and one walk as the Tide erased a three-run deficit in the sixth inning.

The three wins over Mississippi State last weekend improved the Alabama record to 25-15 overall and 8-10 in Southeastern Conference play.

Alabama will host Mississippi Valley State on Tuesday and Wednesday at Sewell-Thomas Stadium. Both games begin at 6:35 p.m. CDT. The Crimson Tide plays at South Carolina this weekend.

Alabama Team Notes:

Alabama recorded its first SEC series sweep of the 2010 season, winning all three games against Mississippi State at Sewell-Thomas Stadium … The Crimson Tide owns a six-game winning streak over the Bulldogs, its longest in the series since 1997-98 … Alabama has won five straight series over MSU for the first time since 1955-60, when UA won six straight series … In addition, Alabama has posted back-to-back series sweeps over MSU for the first time since 1959, when the Crimson Tide swept a pair of two-game series in Tuscaloosa and Starkville … Alabama and Mississippi State played its third straight weather affected series this past weekend … The teams played for 22 minutes on Friday night before the game was suspended in the bottom of the first inning … The game was finally resumed at 8:31 p.m. on Saturday and completed at 11:45 p.m., but not without a 62-minute rain and lightning delay in the eighth inning … The teams played two-seven inning games on Sunday to complete the series … Alabama had two come-from-behind wins against Mississippi State and now has nine this season, including five in SEC play … The Crimson Tide erased a seven-run deficit in game two of the Mississippi State series and won the game 9-8 in extra innings … Alabama trailed 7-0 in the fourth inning but scored eight times in the bottom of the fourth to take an 8-7 lead … Senior third baseman Jake Smith put UA on the board with a grand slam and junior second baseman Ross Wilson gave the Tide the lead with a three-run home run … Smith now has five career grand slams, one shy of the Alabama record … He has two this season at Kentucky (April 11) and against Mississippi State (April 25) … In both games, his grand slam ignited significant comebacks … Alabama trailed 9-0 in the sixth inning at UK on April 11 and Smith's grand slam cut the lead to 9-5 … Alabama eventually won the game 11-9 … UA trailed MSU 7-0 in the fourth inning on Sunday before Smith's grand slam closed the gap to 7-4 and the Tide won 9-8 in extra innings … Smith is also riding a career-best 11-game hitting streak.

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