Tide Controls Own Destiny For SEC

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Alabama erupted for eight runs in the final two innings and turned from scoreboard watching to piling up huge numbers, with an 11-3 win over Tennessee in the first game of its Southeastern Conference series opener at Lindsey Nelson Stadium on Thursday night.

Alabama (32-21, 13-15 SEC) enhanced its SEC Tournament hopes with the win in the series opener. The Tide is one game ahead of Tennessee (12-16) and Kentucky (12-16) with two games to play. Kentucky dropped an 8-6 decision to Georgia in Athens on Thursday night.

The Crimson Tide can punch its ticket to Regions Park in Hoover next week with two more wins over the Volunteers, or one more win in Knoxville and one more UK loss at Georgia.

"We control our own destiny and we're playing well," Alabama Coach Mitch Gaspard said after the win. "It was a good night for Alabama, no doubt about it. I told the team this is one game and we played really well and enjoy it for a couple of hours, but get focused on what you have to do tomorrow."

Senior first baseman Clay Jones went 2-for-4 with one double, one home run and three RBI to lead the Tide to its third straight SEC win. Jones smacked a two-run home run in the first inning and scored three runs. Junior Josh Rutledge had a two-out, two-run double in the seventh to give the Tide a 5-0 lead.

Junior right-hander Jimmy Nelson (7-2) turned in his second straight complete game. The Niceville, Fla., native allowed three runs on eight hits with eight strikeouts and two walks. He no-hit UT for the first 3 2/3 innings and took a shutout into the seventh. He finished the night with 113 pitches. It was the Tide's third straight complete game in SEC play.

"For starters, I thought the two-run home run in the first inning by Clay was big and it got us going and Jimmy matched his outing from last week and just didn't let them up for air," Gaspard said. "I thought he was just outstanding.

"I thought our team played extremely well, in all phases. Obviously, we pitched it well. We ran the bases well and when they scored we answered and we answered big with the four-run inning. We have pretty good momentum going right now."

Alabama scored nine of its 11 runs with two outs beginning with Jones first-inning home run. The senior staked Alabama to a 2-0 lead with a two-run home run to right field. Sophomore center fielder Taylor Dugas led off the game with a base hit and scored on Jones' two-out, two-run home run. It was his team-leading 15th home run of the season.

Alabama added a run in the third inning without a hit to take a 3-0 lead. Jones drew a leadoff walk and took second on the wild pitch by UT starter Stephen McCray. Jones moved to third on junior DH David Kindred's ground out to first base and then trotted home on senior third baseman Jake Smith's sacrifice fly to left field to put the Tide up 3-0.

The Crimson Tide chased McCray in the seventh and padded its lead on Rutledge's clutch two-out double that stretched the lead to 5-0.

Smith drew a leadoff walk and moved into scoring position on sophomore left fielder Jon Kelton's sacrifice bunt. After junior catcher Brock Bennett flied out to the warning track in right field, Tennessee replaced McCray with left-hander Will Locante, who promptly walked Dugas on four pitches.

Steve Crnkovich replaced Locante and gave up a two-run double to Rutledge that fell just in front of UT left fielder P.J. Polk that allowed Smith and Dugas to score and extend the lead to five runs.

McCray (6-4) allowed four runs on three hits, but walked four and struck out four in the loss. He threw 125 pitches.

Tennessee (30-24, 12-16 SEC) got on the board in the seventh when Blake Forsythe's fly ball just cleared the right field wall for a two-run home run to make it 5-2.

Alabama answered back with four, two-out runs in the top of the eighth inning to take a 9-2 lead. Smith started the two-out rally with his 10th home run of the season to give the Tide a 6-2 lead.

The Crimson Tide recorded four straight singles and benefitted from a UT throwing error to build its lead. Freshman right fielder Andrew Miller stroked a single to right and Kelton followed with a base hit to center field to put runners at first and second.

Bennett blooped a single to right that allowed Miller to score from second base and send Kelton to third base. Kelton then scored when UT catcher Blake Forsythe threw the ball away. Dugas followed with a base hit off the glove of a second baseman Khayyan Norfork that scored Bennett from second base to give UA a 9-2 lead.

Tennessee got a run back in the bottom of the eighth when Polk doubled and scored on Cody Hawn's base hit to make it 9-3. Hawn had three of Tennessee's eight hits in the loss.

Alabama added two more runs in the ninth to make the final 11-3. Junior second baseman Ross Wilson was hit by a pitch and scored on Jones' double into the right center field gap to make it 10-3. Jones moved to third on Kindred's fly ball to right and scored on Smith's ground out to cap the scoring.

Alabama and Tennessee will meet in game two of this three-game SEC series on Friday, May 21 at 6 p.m. (CDT). Junior right-hander Nathan Kilcrease (5-2, 2.44 ERA) will pitch for the Tide against UT left-hander Steven Gruver (4-4, 6.62 ERA).


*Alabama (32-21, 13-15 SEC) matched its season-high with its third straight SEC win. The Tide also won three straight SEC games April 23-25 as the Tide swept a home series with Mississippi State.

*Senior first baseman Clay Jones went 2-for-4 with three runs scored and three RBI to lead the Tide offense in the win over Tennessee. He stroked his team-leading 15th home run in the first inning to give Alabama a 2-0 lead. He added an RBI double in the ninth as the Tide built a 10-3 lead.

*Junior shortstop Josh Rutledge had a two-run double in the seventh inning to extend his SEC hitting streak to 19 games. Overall, Rutledge has hit safely in 27 of 28 SEC games this season for the Crimson Tide. The Cullman, Ala., native also extended his overall hitting streak to 11 games on Thursday.

*Rutledge and Jones lead Alabama with 55 RBI this season. Rutledge has 29 RBI in 28 SEC games this year and has 22 RBI in his last 14 league games.

*Junior RHP Jimmy Nelson turned in his second straight complete game for Alabama on Thursday night with an 11-3 win over Tennessee. Nelson did not allow a hit for the first 3 2/3 innings and took a shutout into the seventh inning. He held the Vols to three runs on eight hits with eight strikeouts and two walks.

*In his last two games, Nelson has worked 18 innings and allowed four runs and 12 hits with 19 strikeouts and four walks.

*Alabama has recorded three straight complete games in its last three SEC outings. Nelson has two complete games against No. 14 Mississippi and Tennessee, while junior RHP Nathan Kilcrease has the other against No. 14 Mississippi.

*The Crimson Tide pitching staff has made a huge turnaround in the last five games, dating back to the series opener with Mississippi on May 14. Over the last 34 innings, UA pitchers have allowed only eight runs (seven earned) and 21 hits with 33 strikeouts and eight walks.

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