Alabama 7, Arkansas 4

Alabama chases Arkansas starting pitcher Randall Fant with five runs in the top of the first and - although Brandon Moore shines in relief - the Crimson Tide go on to down the Razorbacks 7-4 Wednesday morning in the opening game of the double-elimination SEC Baseball Tournament in Hoover, Ala.

HOOVER, Ala. – The SEC Western Division champs were fighting uphill even before a single Razorback had been to the plate Wednesday at the SEC Baseball Tournament.

Alabama plated five runs while chasing Arkansas starter Randall Fant in the top of the first and Crimson Tide ace Nathan Kilcrease went eight solid innings en route to a 7-4 win in the opening round of the double-elimination event.

Fant (3-4) – who gave up five runs on five hits, a hit batter and a balk in 2/3 of an inning - had four different hitters with two strikes in the opening frame only to see those hitters all reach base.

"Give them credit," Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said. "They got four hits with two strikes on them. They just kept doing it."

It was Fant's shortest outing of the season and certainly a different effort than when Fant pitched 6 1/3 innings of scoreless baseball against Ole Miss last Saturday.

"He just wasn't finishing anybody off – an 0-2 walk, an 0-2 base hit," Van Horn said. "Just things like that. That is when you are supposed to bounce a pitch and make somebody chase. He threw the ball in the zone too much."

Brandon Moore was sparkling while finishing up in relief for the second-seeded Razorbacks (36-19), who won the Western Division title with a doubleheader sweep of the Rebels last Saturday.

He pitched a career-high 8 1/3 innings while allowing two earned runs on six hits, fanning two and walking one.

"Immense confidence booster," Moore said of his effort. "Come in and throw strikes, I fell behind a lot of hitters early, thanks to Coach for sticking with me through that. I was able to get my feel and get more confident."

Moore's effort saved the Razorback pitching staff, who will send ace D.J. Baxendale out Thursday in a 9:30 a.m. losers' bracket game against Mississippi State a 7-5 loser to Florida in game two of the tournament.

Nick Routt (2-2, 3.83) - who allowed six runs on eight hits in three innings in a 3-1 loss earlier this season to the Razorbacks - will start on the mound for the Bulldogs.

"At this time we don't really have to say a whole lot," Van Horn said. "They know what's on the line. We don't need to go into it. We know we are going to play Mississippi State or Florida, and that's all we know right now. (DJ) Baxendale will start the game, and hopefully we will get a chance to be the second team to come in here and talk tomorrow."

Seventh-seeded Alabama (33-24) advances to Florida after getting off to the great start - including an energizing balk - which helped Arkansas last week but hurt them on Wednesday.

"I though obviously we had a quick start to the game, had a really good first inning," Alabama head coach Mitch Gaspard said. " I thought the balk really kind of energized us to get started and then we delivered some heat and took advantage of some opportunities there to get off to a 5-0 lead."

Baxendale was unavailable to start on Wednesday after starting last Thursday's game and relieving in the back end of the Razorbacks' title-clinching twinbill on Saturday.

Kilcrease (7-4) fanned a career-high 10 while walking only one on Wednesday while allowing just one earned run on seven hits.

"You don't really know what to expect with a 9:30 a.m. game. The offense comes out with scoring 5 runs in the first inning makes it real easy to pitch. You know what to do, just attack the strike zone, get ahead and put them away early. Coach called a great game for me, he mixed and matched all my pitches and gave a good flow to the game."

Gaspard liked his chances with a 5-0 lead and Kilcrease going to the mound.

"Obviously with Kilcrease on the mound helped us," Gaspard said. " It felt pretty good at that time. We knew he would find the strike zone and do a good job the rest of the way.

"One thing about Nathan that needs to be said, those that follow us and see us a lot know, this guy has delivered for us time and time again," Gaspard added. "Today was no different, it seems like every time we need one he gives one of his best outings. Today was the most strikeouts he has had in a game with 10 against an SEC team. A lot of credit goes to Nathan. I thought our team just competed extremely hard and did a great job coming out in an early ball game ready to play. "

He now has 17 strikeouts in 15 innings of work this season against Arkansas, who has lost three of its four games this season with the Crimson Tide.

"He is a salty senior pitcher that knows what he is doing," Van Horn said.

Jonathan Smart worked the final inning for Alabama, who had two errors just as did Arkansas.

Collin Kuhn had two of his team's seven hits and James McCann a pair of RBIs.

"I think he pitches really well," Kuhn said of Kilcrease. He usually doesn't pitch it the same way at every at bat. He just really mixes it up and keeps you off balance. We took too many strikes, I think." Kilcrease kept Arkansas blanked until the fifth when Kuhn and McCann's double chased home three runs.

The Razorbacks' fourth run came in the sixth via a Matt Reynolds double and a Tim Carver sacrifice fly.

Tyler Dugas homered and had two hits as did fellow Crimson Tide batters Brett Booth, Andrew Miller and Jared Reaves.

Dugas' homer was his team-leading sixth of the season despite hitting lead-off for the small-ball Bama team.

"I think a little bit that helped today was the wind blowing out a bit," Dugas said. " Just got a pitch that hung up there in the middle and put a good swing on it."

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