Tide Baseball Is Having Hot Streak

A few weeks ago it looked like Alabama would have to have an awfully strong finish to make it into the Southeastern Conference Baseball Tournament. Would 14 wins do it? How about 15? It seemed a bit like a moot question because a few weeks ago it didn't appear the Tide could limp into the tournament.



Alabama didn't limp in. The Crimson Tide of first year Coach Mitch Gaspard roared home.

As recently as a week ago, when Alabama lost the opening game of a three-game series to then SEC West Division leader Ole Miss, it appeared there was no chance of the Crimson Tide making the SEC Tournament in Hoover. Even after Alabama won the final two games of the series against the Rebels, the deck seemed stacked against Bama.

Alabama went into this final week of SEC regular season play needing a combination of events. Alabama, Tennessee, LSU, and Kentucky were tied for seventh place in the league with 12-15 records. First of all, Alabama would have to beat Tennessee in Knoxville. Even with that, Bama had lost series earlier in the year to LSU and Kentucky, and so the Bengal Tigers and Wildcats had the tie-breaker advantage on Alabama. That meant the Tide not only had to beat Tennessee head up, but also had to win at least one more game than either LSU or Kentucky.

Alabama did its part, defeating the Vols in the first two games of the series. And when Kentucky lost its first two games against lowly Georgia, Bama was in the tournament.

Making it to the SEC Tournament, along with having played one of the nation's most difficult schedules and having a high RPI, means that Alabama has likely also played its way into an NCAA Regional Tournament berth.

Although Florida won the SEC regular season and South Carolina finished second, those two and Vanderbilt will be the only SEC Eastern Division teams at the tournament at Regions Park in Hoover next week. The SEC Western Division will have five representatives – Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn (which won the West and will make its first appearance in the SEC tournament in nearly a decade), LSU, and Ole Miss.

Alabama clinched its sixth straight SEC Tournament berth with its 4-2, 11-inning win over Tennessee Friday. Alabama is tied with LSU for seventh place in the league standings heading into Saturday's regular season finale. An LSU win over Mississippi State on Saturday would give the Tigers the No. 7 seed. Alabama could claim the No. 7 seed with a win over Tennessee and an LSU loss. The No. 7 seed will play Auburn (No. 2 seed and SEC Western Division champion) on Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. (CDT). The No. 8 seed will play Florida (No. 1 seed and SEC Champion) at 4:30 p.m.

Alabama won two of three games from Auburn in regular season play, but lost a non-counting game to Auburn during the season. Florida took two of three from Bama.

Senior third baseman Jake Smith hit a game-winning two-run home run in the 11th inning and threw two scoreless innings on the mound for his first win of the season. Smith's 11th inning homer was his 11th home run of the season and 10th home run since April 10. He has hit safely in 20 of his last 23 games for the Tide.

Junior right-hander Nathan Kilcrease held the Volunteers to two runs and six hits in nine innings on Friday, marking the fourth straight game an Alabama starter had pitched nine complete innings. He added four strikeouts and did not issue a walk.

Kilcrease pitched a complete game win over Ole Miss last Sunday and Jimmy Nelson had complete game wins over Ole Miss last Saturday and over Tennessee Thursday.

The UA 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 45 innings, UA pitchers have allowed only 10 runs (nine earned) and 27 hits with 37 strikeouts and 12 walks.

Alabama starters are 3-0 with a 2.00 ERA and three complete games in the last four games. The starters have worked 36 innings and allowed nine runs (8 ER) on 23 hits with 30 strikeouts and six walks.

Sophomore center fielder Taylor Dugas went 2-for-5 in the win over Tennessee and has now reached base safely in 43 consecutive games, dating back to March 13. For the season, he has reached base in 53 of the Tide's 54 games.

Junior shortstop Josh Rutledge went 1-for-5 with a go-ahead RBI single in the eighth inning on Friday. The Cullman native has hit safely in 28 of 29 SEC games this season, including a 20-game SEC hitting streak. He has hit safely in all 24 games away from Tuscaloosa this season, including a 22-game road hitting streak. Overall, he has hit safely in his last 12 games.

Rutledge leads the Tide with 56 RBI this season, including 30 in SEC play. He has collected 23 RBI in his last 14 SEC games, dating back to the Mississippi State series on April 23-25. In his first 15 SEC games, Rutledge had only seven RBI.

Junior left fielder Jon Kelton was 2-for-4 with one double and one run scored on Friday. He is 4-for-6 in the UT series after two games.

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