BASEBALL: Bama Rallies For 6 in 9th To Beat UF

A furious ninth inning rally gave eighteenth-ranked Alabama an improbable 9-6 victory over fifth-ranked Florida in SEC baseball action Sunday at McKethan Stadium. Junior Spencer Pennington ripped a one-out, bases loaded double scoring two runs, which lifted the spirits and ignited the rally of a Crimson Tide team that was listless just a one pitch earlier.

Florida closer Darren O'Day (5-3) has been tremendous throughout the 2005 season. The 6-3, 220-pound junior had picked up two saves this weekend against an Alabama club that hadn't come close to solving him. O'Day had pitched four shutout innings in the first two games of the series, limiting Alabama to one hit in 14 at bats. Sunday was a very different story.

Trailing 6-3, the Crimson Tide sent the four, five, and six hitters to the plate. Florida Coach Pat McMahon called on O'Day, who entered the ninth inning allowing opponents to hit a pathetic .186 against him to go with a sparkling 1.11 ERA.

After getting ahead in the count against clean-up hitter Evan Bush, O'Day ran the count full, although one of those pitches had strike written all over it. Bush lifted a single to left field. Two pitches later, pinch-hitter Matt Grooms fisted one into right field. Alabama skipper Jim Wells then sent pinch hitter Matt Bentley into the game. Down in the count 1-2, Bentley was hit by a pitch that clearly looked as though it was straddling the inside corner of the plate. O'Day and Florida catcher Brian Jeroloman were clearly unhappy, as this marked the second time that an Alabama batter had seemingly leaned into a pitch. McMahon stepped out to argue the earlier incident, but came out of the dugout this time in hopes of keeping O'Day and the team's focus on the task at hand.

With the bases loaded, Wells sent Pennington to the plate. Despite having the bases loaded, the Crimson Tide bench was relatively quiet. Pennington ripped a two-run double to left center, which cut the Florida lead to 6-5. The Alabama bench then began to come alive as the team saw a glimmer of hope with two men in scoring position and only one out. Shortstop Cale Iorg then fisted a single to left field, just out of the reach of Gavin Dickey and Justin Tordi to knot the game at six.

McMahon then called upon reliever Mike Pete, who had not allowed a run to score in any of the 10 relief appearances with runners on board this season. Leadoff hitter Eleem Salem followed with a bunt which was fielded cleanly by first baseman Matt LaPorta. However, LaPorta's throw to the plate was not in time and Alabama took a 7-6 lead.

Pete got Allen Rice to pop up to LaPorta on a failed bunt attempt. However, Gabe Scott launched a two-out hit that right fielder Brian LeClerc lost in the wind. The ball bounced just outside of the warming track, and over the right field wall for a ground rule double. Iorg scored on the play and the Tide had batted around. Bush returned to the plate to launch a single to left scoring Salem for Bama's ninth run. McMahon called on lefthander Stephen Porter who struck out Grooms to end the six-run inning.

The Gators began this one as they had the past several games by scoring first. Jeff Corsaletti singled to right field, and was driven in two pitches later on Dickey's home run over the right field wall.

The Crimson Tide scored a single run in the second, third, and fourth innings. Their score in the third briefly tied things up but Florida ripped four hits and scored three runs in the bottom half of the inning to pull away, 5-2.

Dickey punched Alabama starter Brandon Belcher's first pitch into shallow center field. Adam Davis followed with a single to center as well. Two batters later, LeClerc singled to load the bases. Third baseman Brandon McArthur then blasted a single to left, scoring Dickey and Davis. LeClerc then added another run on Brian Jeroloman's fielder's choice.

McArthur went two for four with three RBI's in Sunday's game. Dickey collected two hits in four trips with a pair of RBI's. Alabama was led at the plate by leadoff hitter Eleem Salem, who went four for five, and scored a pair of runs.

Crimson Tide reliever David Robertson held the Florida bats in check after he entered in the fourth inning. Robertson pitched six innings, giving up only three hits and one earned run, while striking out seven.

After the post game handshake, there were a few Florida players still in the dugout, apparently sitting in a state of shock, and who could blame them? This one was an X-File. O'Day is among the best closers in the country, and he didn't pitch poorly at all.

Florida travels to Tallahassee to take on Florida State this Tuesday night. Next weekend the Gators will head to the plains, where they'll meet Western Division foe Auburn.

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