Pitching Was Key In Tide Surge

The final series of a baseball regular season is expected to produce drama and heroes. Thus it was for Alabama in the final week as the Crimson Tide swept Tennessee. Coach Mitch Gaspard and his staff had to do an excellent job in the Bama games. Then those coaches had another tough task...selecting the players of the week.

It wasn't easy, just as the task facing Alabama at the end of last week wasn't easy. Bama knew it had to win the Tennessee series and then had to have a little help to squeeze into the Southeastern Conference Baseball Tournament at Hoover this week. Bama did more than squeeze in. The Crimson Tide swept the Vols in three games and when Kentucky lost its second game of the week to Georgia, the Tide became the first of four teams that had been vying for the final two spots to qualify for the SEC Tournament. When LSU later lost to Mississippi State, the Tide was not only in the tournament, but had moved up to the seventh seed.

The sweep improved Alabama's record to 34-21 and evened Bama's SEC record at 15-15. Alabama finished regular season play with five consecutive victories. Considering the Tide's high RPI, most expect Alabama to be selected for the NCAA Tournament regardless of how the Tide fares in the SEC Tournament at Hoover. That tournament begins at 9:30 a.m. CDT Wednesday at Regions Park in Hoover with Bama taking on Auburn, which won the SEC Western Division and is the second seed in the tournament. This will be Alabama's sixth consecutive SEC Tournament appearance.

Looking back to last weekend, the Alabama coaching staff has named junior left fielder Jon Kelton, senior third baseman/pitcher Jake Smith and junior right-handers Jimmy Nelson and Nathan Kilcrease as its players of the week.

The Crimson Tide's starting pitchers compiled a 2.73 ERA in the series with Volunteers.

"We had a tremendous weekend and it's a credit to our players for the way they closed the year to qualify for the SEC Tournament," Gaspard said. "Every player on our team contributed in series against Tennessee. We felt like, guys separated themselves in some key moments in the series. Nelson and Peanut (Kilcrease) have been outstanding the last three weeks on the mound. Smith hit a big home run and gave us two scoreless innings on the mound. Kelton had a big series too, with some quality at-bats in some key situations."

Nelson logged his second straight complete game with an 11-3 series opening win over Tennessee. He no-hit the Volunteers for 3 2/3 innings and took a shutout into the seventh. He held UT to three runs on eight hits with eight strikeouts and two walks.

Kilcrease pitched nine solid innings in game two as Alabama punched its ticket to the SEC Tournament. The junior held UT to two runs on four hits with four strikeouts and no walks in the Tide's 4-2 win in 11 innings. He came within three outs of his second straight complete game before allowed a game-tying home run in the ninth.

Nelson and Kilcrease both worked nine innings in the Tennessee series to give Alabama four consecutive games in which the starting pitcher worked nine innings, with three complete games.

Smith was a two-way threat in the series and played a huge role in the Tide's series-clinching win Friday. The senior hit a game-winning two-run home run in the top of the 11th inning to give Alabama a 4-2 lead. He pitched two scoreless innings in relief of Kilcrease to earn his first career win on the mound as the Tide won its first SEC road series of the season. He hit .308 (4-for-13) in the three-game series with two home runs and six RBI.

Kelton paced the Tide at the plate for the second time this season in SEC play. He hit .556 (5-for-9) with two doubles, two runs scored and two sacrifice bunts in the series. He doubled and scored the tying run in the fourth inning of UA's 4-2 comeback win on Friday.

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