Red-Hot Alabama Wins Again In SEC
The Alabama baseball team, hot as an over-spiced tamale, has moved into excellent position in the winner's bracket of the SEC Tournament after getting its second win in the SEC Tournament at Regions Park in Ho0ver. The spoon that stirred the Crimson Tide pot was diminutive right-handed pitcher Nathan "Peanut" Kilcrease, who led Bama to a 6-3 win over Ole Miss Thursday evening.
Alabama has now won seven consecutive games, all of them clutch wins, to improve to 36-21. More important, with wins over Auburn and Ole Miss in the first two games of the tournament, Bama now gets a day off from action.
Attendance was not announced at press time, but was certainly in five figures. The game lasted 2:50.
GAME STORY: This two-out run-scoring thing is really catching on. The Tide scored three of its six runs with two men down after tallying seven in that fashion in Wednesday's win over Auburn. That's 10 out of 13 in two days in Hoover. To wit:
In the fifth inning of a scoreless game, Bama's Taylor Dugas drew a two-out walk from Rebels starter Aaron Barrett (7-4). Dugas stole second, and Josh Rutledge drove him in for a 1-0 lead.
In the eighth, after the Rebs had narrowed the lead to 4-1, Rutledge drove in Brock Bennett with a two-out single. After Wilson was hit by a pitch, Clay Jones got Rutledge home with a single.
"People are really capitalizing on those big ABs (at bats)," Wilson noted. "People are focusing on coming through." Wilson had three hits, walked once, and was hit by a pitch, giving him five times on base in as many plate appearances in his hometown.
"We try to lock in on every at bat with men on base," said Bennett, who had three hits.
Said Gaspard: "I think when you start playing well, there's a little better focus with two outs and men on base. Once you get one (hit), it kind of rubs off. This is the feeling you want this time of year. Confidence is just dripping off the guys."
Not all the runs came with two outs. Shaky fielding by Barrett helped the Tide score twice in the fifth, when he misplayed a pair of grounders, though one by Kindred was later ruled a hit. In inning seven, Ross Wilson got one of his three hits with a single to center. Clay Jones was hit by a pitch, and former Ole Miss player Kindred moved both men up with a sacrifice bunt.
Then there's the pitching thing. Kilcrease (6-2) retired 17 straight Johnny Reb batters at one point before the seventh. The Rebels (37-21) did get to the senior for single runs in each of the final three frames, but Bama answered the first tally with a deuce of its own in the top of the eighth, with the above-mentioned two-out hitting.
Ole Miss catcher Miles Hamblin hit a prodigious shot to right to open the eighth, but Kilcrease went into damage-control mode to escape the frame after allowing one more safety.
In the bottom of the ninth, down 6-2, Ole Miss first baseman Matt Smith led off with a single. After David Phillips grounded softly to Jones at first, Ole Miss cut the lead in half with Alex Yarbrough's RBI single. With his pitch count at 110, and a Gaspard-imposed limit of 115, would Kilcrease be able to reach back and find enough stuff to finish the game and keep the Tide in the winner's bracket? No one was throwing in the Alabama bull pen. He had to. Or did he?
Things got sticky, after Taylor Hashman singled to put Rebels on first and second, still with just one out. Third baseman Jake Smith came to the mound, assigned by Gaspard to get the final two outs. Smith hit 92 on several fastballs, first getting Hamblin on a 3-2 pop to Jones at first that seemed to go a mile high. The final out came when Kevin Mort took a 2-2 breaking ball for a called third strike.
Kilcrease went 8 1/3 innings, and allowed three runs, striking out three. He did not walk a batter, and hasn't issued a free pass in 25 2/3 innings. He scattered nine hits.
"This guy's real good," said Rebs' Coach Mike Bianco. "He's the type of guy that doesn't fall behind. He's got great command. He looks like he could throw it in a cup. That's why he's so special."
Much is made of Kilcrease's stature. He's maybe 5-foot-5. "A pitcher's a pitcher, whether he's 5-5 or 6-5," said Ole Miss' Smith, who had three hits. "He rarely misses over the plate. He keeps the ball away. You've got to stay back, and hit the ball the other way."
Alabama will have a day off from competition Friday, and will be back in action Saturday against LSU, Vanderbilt or Florida. Bama will play the second Saturday game, after the 9:30 a.m. contest. Ole Miss will take on Auburn Friday at 3 p.m.
NOTEBOOKING THE TIDE: Wilson, Hoover native, is said to be playing through a LOT of pain after being hit in the hand by a pitch earlier this month. He denies it, but Gaspard said, "Don't let him fool you."
Wilson will get to take cuts in his old batting cage Friday, when the Tide team works out at Hoover High school at 11:00 a.m. As far as playing at Regions Park, where he quarterbacked the Hoover Bucs back in the day, he says not to read too much into that.
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