Bama bunts oust Arkansas

HOOVER, Ala. -- Alabama bunted Arkansas to death to break open a scoreless game in the seventh inning of a 4-3 Hogs' loss here Thursday. It ended the fourth-seeded Razorbacks' fifth straight appearance in the Southeastern Conference Tournament.

They've lost their last five games in the tourney, dating back to 2004.

With the score deadlocked at 0-0 in bottom of the seventh thanks to a classic pitcher's duel between Arkansas' Daryl Maday and Alabama's Wade LeBlanc, the Tide started rolling bunts.

The inning began when Kent Matthes, a .176 hitter coming into the game, lined a single up the middle to end Maday's outing. Normally reliable reliever Devin Collis then gave up back-to-back singles to allow one run to score.

That's when the bunts started. There was three in a row (by Emeel Salem, Matt Downs and David Ferazza) that scored runs to give the Tide a 4-0 lead and rattle Arkansas' defense.

"We bunt all the time, but we haven't done it that much," Salem said. "When the bats aren't as hot, you kind of have to resort to other things like bunting. Fortunately, we executed every bunt and everything worked out."

Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said the entire dugout was calling for a bunt when Salem laid one down and reached safely when the ball skipped out of second baseman James Ewing's glove as he rotated over to cover first.

"That's the little things that bother me. In a tight game, that's the difference between winning and losing," Van Horn said. "We were over there calling for the squeeze bunt. We felt like they might squeeze. They waited until the third pitch and it was a very nice bunt, a good play.

"They bunted around and sacrificed a couple of times and did what they needed to do. You've got to do that type of stuff when you're in a tight game like that and they did a good job of it."

Arkansas answered in the top of the eighth when David Hum launched a three-run homer that carried about a foot over the outstretched glove of Matthes, the Tide's right fielder.

Maday and LeBlanc combined to allow just one earned run. Maday allowed five hits in six innings while LeBlanc gave up five hits in seven innings.

A junior making only his fourth SEC start this season, Maday overcame adversity in the first inning when a pair of pop ups were misplayed by Arkansas outfielders. He also worked his way out of a bases-loaded jam by getting a ground out to end the fifth inning.

"I made this comment to Maday after the game that I was really proud of the way he reacted after we made the errors," Van Horn said. "He didn't pout around. He just went out there and kept pitching and got out of the inning.

"There was another inning where they loaded it up with a couple of infield hits and he got the big out again. He did a good job of hanging around."

LeBlanc was dazzling at times as he changed speeds with his fastball to keep the Hogs off balance and strike out nine. He said he tweaked his approach from when he was beat in Fayetteville by using more offspeed stuff earlier in counts before blowing fastballs by Arkansas batters.

After back-to-back, one-out singles to Jake Dugger and James Ewing to put runners on second and third base in the sixth, LeBlanc struck out Danny Hamblin and Hum to escape his only real jam of the game.

"Keeping the ball low is what really kept me out of trouble," LeBlanc said. "They helped me out on a couple of pitches there. I think I bared down a little bit and I think that's what the team needed. That's my job."

Van Horn said the missed opportunity mixed with Alabama's ability to execute the seventh-inning bunts was the difference in the game.

"We've got our four-hole and five-hole hitter coming up and he gets two strikeouts," Van Horn said. "I thought that was a really big part of the game because we would have liked to have had the lead and saw what happened."

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