Smith Hits, Pitches Tide Past Clemson

Late in the Southeastern Conference baseball season and Alabama foundering around the bottom of the SEC Western Division, first year Crimson Tide Coach Mitch Gaspard was 100 per cent behind his team. He said Bama was only a few games away from being a College World Series contender. If the NCAA didn't have a strict "no tobacco" policy, one might have wondered what Gaspard was smoking.

Amazingly, Alabama has won 13 of its last 15 games and four in a row, including a dramatic 5-4 win over Clemson at Clemson Saturday in the NCAA Super Regional, and is now one game away from making the College World Series. Alabama has not been in the CWS since 1999.

The second game of the best-of-three series is Sunday at 7 p.m. EDT (6 p.m. central time). If a third game is necessary, it will be played Monday. Sunday's game is on ESPN 2. By virtue of coin tosses, Alabama is designated as the home team for the Sunday game and the "if necessary" game on Monday.

With the win, Alabama improved to 42-23. Clemson fell to 41-23. Mitch Gaspard has tied the Alabama school record for most wins by a rookie coach.

The Crimson Tide will send junior left-hander Adam Morgan (17 GS, 7-4, 5.52 ERA) to the mound in Sunday's game. Morgan has two complete game wins this postseason against Florida and Georgia Tech. Clemson will counter with sophomore right-hander Scott Weismann (16 GS, 7-2, 5.13 ERA).

Jake Smith had two hits, including a home run, and then moved from third base to pitcher in the final two innings to get the save. Smith allowed just one hit and struck out two batters.

Smith now has three home runs and three saves in post-season play. He keads Bama with 14 runs batted in in post-season games.

Jimmy Nelson went 6 2/3 innings, allowing all four runs to the Tigers, before being relieved by Jonathan Smart in the bottom of the seventh inning. Nelson got the win, improving his record to 9-3.

Clemson left-handed ace Casey Harman took the loss, falling to 7-3. Harman's pitching wasn't his problem. Although he gave up all five runs, four of them were unearned. He struck out nine and did not walk a Bama batter.

Alabama took a 5-0 lead with a run in the second inning and four two-out runs in the third inning.

Senior third baseman Jake Smith gave Alabama a 1-0 lead with a solo home run that reached the parking lot beyond the left field wall. It was Smith's 14th home run of the season, with 13 of those home runs coming after April 10.

After taking the lead with the long ball in the second inning, Alabama scored four runs with a little small ball in the third inning to take a 5-0 lead. Sophomore center fielder Taylor Dugas slapped a leadoff single to center and junior shortstop Josh Rutledge reached when Harman misplayed his sacrifice bunt.

Dugas went 4-5.

Junior second baseman Ross Wilson moved both runners into scoring position with a sacrifice bunt and senior first baseman Clay Jones was hit a pitch to load the bases with one out. Harman came back to strike out Smith and the Tigers appeared to get out of the inning before third baseman Jon Hinson booted a ground ball off the bat of sophomore left fielder Jon Kelton that scored Dugas from third and kept the bases loaded. Freshman right fielder Andrew Miller followed with a two-run single and freshman DH Brett Booth drove in another run with a single up the middle to put the Tide in front 5-0.

Nelson did not have his best stuff. He allowed nine hits, all four runs were earned against him by Clemson, and Nelson struck out only four while walking five.

Clemson came right back with three runs in the bottom of the third to close the gap to 5-3. The inning started when Nelson walked the eight-hole hitter Wilson Boyd on four pitches. After Spencer Kieboom struck out, Will Lamb and Mike Freeman followed with back-to-back singles as Boyd crossed the plate with the first run.

Jeff Schaus followed with a sacrifice fly to left field to score Lamb as the Tigers made it 5-2. Kyle Parker and Brad Miller then stroked a pair of two-out hits as Freeman scored on Miller's single up the middle to make it 5-3.

Both teams missed scoring opportunities in the middle innings.

Alabama put the leadoff man on base in each of the first six innings, but failed to score after the third inning. Dugas led off the fourth with a single, but was stranded at third. Smith had a leadoff single in the fifth before Miller hit into an inning-ending double play. Freshman DH Brett Booth led off the sixth inning with a double and Dugas added a one-out single, but again the Tide was held scoreless.

Clemson missed scoring chances, too. The Tigers loaded the bases with one out in the fifth before Miller's ground ball was knocked down by Wilson at second base and converted into an inning-ending double play.

The Tigers got a pinch-hit, two-out triple from Chris Epps in the sixth inning to score Wilson Boyd to cut the lead to 5-4.

Clemson could get no closer despite loading the bases in the seventh to finally chase Nelson from the game. Schaus lined a one-out single to right and Nelson issued back-to-back, two-out walks to Miller and Hinson.

Smart then replaced Nelson on the mound and got Richie Shaffer to line out to Miller in right field to end the inning as the Tigers left the bases loaded. Clemson stranded 10 bases runners, while Alabama left seven men on base.

Smart allowed a leadoff single to Boyd in the eighth and Alabama turned the game over to Smith, who got a couple of nifty defensive plays to hold the lead.

Clemson catcher John Nester fouled out on a bunt to junior catcher Brock Bennett, who made a basket catch running toward the Tigers' dug out. After Lamb reached on an infield hit, Freeman hit into an inning-ending double play started again by Wilson, who made three stellar defensive plays for the Tide.

Smith closed out the game with a perfect ninth inning. He struck out Schaus, the Tigers' leading RBI man, on a called third strike for the first out. Schaus protested the call and was ejected by home plate umpire Dan Mascorro. Smith then got Parker, Clemson's top home run hitter, on a called third strike. Miller grounded out to Rutledge to end the game.


Alabama Head Coach Mitch Gaspard

"I thought that was a really good college baseball game with lots of excitement; it came down to the wire. Jimmy [Nelson] competed hard in the heat. We did a nice job offensively, especially in the third inning to take the lead, but Clemson came right back. Our bullpen did well…the key was our defense and the double plays. The guys competed hard for nine innings on both sides, especially in the back end. "

On double plays on defense:

"They were huge. Offensively we've been able to score and take advantage of opportunities and haven't given lots of opportunities. The strength of our club is infield play; our players are comfortable with each other. We have to and have been able to pick up the play in the post-season."

On mindset going into tomorrow's game and facing a desperate Clemson team:

"We've been on the other side too, so we want to keep focused. We have had to play in desperation the last few weeks and we won't let up on our side. We're going to play like that, too. Desperation on one side is opportunity on the other."

On leaving pitcher Jimmy Nelson in game:

"There were a few spots there, but we have full trust in Jimmy. We were concerned that he was laboring in the heat, but whenever we went to go get him he'd throw a good pitch and we'd leave him in."

On replacing Nelson with 3B Jake Smith:

"Jake was in a good rhythm and we rode the double ball from the 8th inning. Nathan [Kilcrease] was ready too, and will be available tomorrow night."

Senior 3B/RHP Jake Smith

On his role on the team:

"At the beginning of the year I didn't pitch as much. Later in the season, coach told me that if we wanted to win, I was going to have to pitch. I just stepped into that role to help out my teammates and get the job done."

On home run and coming off third to pitch late in game:

"The home run was a change-up that was just left up. That was about as good as I could get one. It isn't really a big deal to me to come off third and pitch. I've been pitching my whole life so it's just something I come in and do."

On final double play:

"It was a back door slider that the guy just rolled over. As soon as he hit it, I was just counting "1-2". The defense really picked me up there so we could get out of that spot."

Junior RHP Jimmy Nelson

On pitching:

"I throw mostly a four-seam fastball and sometimes it moves. The defense really picked me up tonight. Those double plays were crucial and really the defense was phenomenal. I was tired, but I was trying to put it out of my mind. I just really tried to throw the ball like I know how and let the defense work."

On coach's confidence in him:

"We all know anyone can go out there and get the job done. I really think the coaches trust me. They know that if I have a bad inning, I can turn around and have a comeback inning. The defense really helped the teams confidence in me tonight to get the job done."

Sophomore CF Taylor Dugas

On lead off hits:

"Everyone that led off for us did a great job getting on base. Once you get the lead off hitter on, it puts a lot of pressure on the defense. We wanted to keep the pressure on them throughout the game."

Clemson Head Coach Jack Leggett

Opening statement:

"That was a tough game for us to lose, no question about it. We had plenty of opportunities but unfortunately we just couldn't get the big hit."

"Casey Harman battled tough all night long, and from the fourth inning on he was outstanding. We have to give him a lot of credit for battling. We had that one tough inning. We have to give Alabama credit for capitalizing on that one extra out where they got the 3 or 4 extra runs on top of it. We just have to collect ourselves and be ready to play tomorrow."

On game:

"It makes it tough when the lead off man gets on base. It's great for the offense, tough for the defense. Really the whole key to that ballgame was the third inning. I think from that point on, we pitched really well and played well. We hit some hard balls and they turned the double plays that they needed. They did what they needed defensively."

"We hit some balls hard at the 2nd baseman, that's the one that hurt the most because we had the bases loaded. Brad Miller was up and we had good speed on the bases. That one hurt a little bit. We had some other times where we hit into double plays, and they turned them. They did what they had to defensively."

"We have got to put it behind us and just come out and play and hopefully get ourselves to a Monday game. We have to take care of our business tomorrow. We can't take anything from today into tomorrow. Its over. We have to be ready to play." On pitching tomorrow:

Scotty Weismann:

On mental standpoint:

"Like I told the players at the end of the game, what do you expect? We've been doing this all year long. It's the way it has been. Nothing has been easy. Nothing has been handed to us. We have to earn everything that we get. We would have loved to have won the ballgame, but this is par for the course. This is the way we've been all season long, so we have to keep on battling just like we've been doing. I don't expect anything different now. We have to come back and be tough."

On crowd support:

"They were great. They are always great. It's always great to play at home for a great crowd. Hopefully they'll come out tomorrow and give us a chance to move in to Monday and keep on playing.

Second Baseman Mike Freeman

On The Game

"Obviously it is frustrating because we were just trying to get at least one run to win the game and we didn't quite get that accomplished. We battled the whole way. They went up 5-0 and we came back with three in the bottom of the third to keep it close. Then Casey didn't give them anything the rest of the game and we just couldn't find that big hit to give us the extra couple of runs that we needed. Then in the ninth we couldn't get anything going."

On Jimmy Nelson

"He pitched well. We only scored four runs on him and like you said, he has been pitching well lately. Our approach was to just be aggressive. He has a good fastball and we were able to put some runs together and we just couldn't get the two runs we needed. He did his job for his team and we battled for them and just couldn't get those runs to make the game go our way. You have to give him credit for battling for his team the same way Casey did and they got that extra hit they needed."

On what it takes to win

"Just to come out and play the way we play. We lost a game in the regional Sunday night to put our backs against the wall, and people thought the momentum was with Auburn. We came back Monday and won a big game. Nothing this season has been easy, like Coach Leggett said, so we are not going to back off now. We are going to come out tomorrow and play our game and be aggressive. Just play the way we play and have fun out there doing it."

Pitcher Casey Harman

On difference after the third inning

"I was just going after them. We had a little problem with letting the leadoff batter on base and once that happens there is nothing you can really do but go after them. We gave them some extra outs in the third inning. After that, I just had to keep going after them."

On Clemson's defense in third

"Even when you are struggling you don't expect that from our team. I know we don't and we all have confidence in each other to make the plays. It is always frustrating when stuff like that happens, but there is nothing you can do about but pick your teammate up and keep going."

On last two outings

"The time of the year is where you have to gear up and just be more aggressive. That has been my main thing the past couple of games, just going after them and not really giving in to the fact that they are a power hitting team."

On bunt in third inning

"I just bobbled it on the transition. It was a fast runner and I was just trying to get an out."


*Alabama (42-23) has won 13 of its last 15 games and four in a row, following its 5-4 win at No. 13 Clemson Saturday night at Doug Kingsmore Stadium. The Crimson Tide is now 3-2 in Super Regional play and recorded its first win since sweeping a best-of-three series from LSU in 1999.

*Alabama head coach Mitch Gaspard tied Jim Wells for the most wins by first-year coach in Alabama history. Gaspard has directed the Crimson Tide to a 42-23 overall record and is one win away from the school's sixth College World Series appearance. Wells led the Tide to a 42-23 record during the 1995 season, which ended with a 7-4 loss to Clemson in the 1995 NCAA East Regional on the Tigers' campus.

*Alabama scored four of its five runs against Clemson with two outs and has scored 32 of its 62 runs this postseason with two outs.

*Alabama has homered in its last six postseason games with 10 total home runs. The Crimson Tide hit five home runs in five games at the NCAA Atlanta Regional last weekend.

*Alabama turned two critical double plays and did not commit an error in the win over Clemson. The Crimson Tide has played four straight errorless games in the postseason.

*Senior third baseman Jake Smith hit a second-inning home run and then recorded the save by getting the final six outs of the game. Smith has three home runs and three saves this postseason and he leads the Tide with 14 postseason RBI. Smith hit his 14 home run of the year in the second inning and has hit 13 of his 14 home runs after April 10. *Sophomore center fielder Taylor Dugas went 4-for-5 and scored one run in the win over Clemson. He collected singles in each of his first four at-bats to raise his season average to .402 through 65 games. *Freshman right fielder Andrew Miller had two hits and two RBI in the win over Clemson. He doubled in his first at-bat in the second inning and then added a two-run single in the Tide's four-run third inning. Freshman DH Brett Booth added two hits and one RBI in the win over Clemson. Booth had an RBI single in the third inning and then led off the sixth inning with a double. *Alabama and Clemson sent combined for seven runs on seven hits and sent 17 batters to the plate in the third inning. The Crimson Tide batted around and scored four runs on three hits to take a 5-0 lead. The Tigers answered with three runs on four hits in the bottom of the inning to cut the UA lead to 5-3.

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