Bama beats Auburn 7-1 in first game of SEC Tournament
HOOVER, Ala. – Alabama head baseball coach Mitch Gaspard celebrated his 45th birthday on Wednesday at Regions Park, but it was junior right-hander Jimmy Nelson who took the cake.
The Niceville, Fla., native logged his third consecutive complete game, leading Alabama to a 7-1 win over No. 16 Auburn in the first round of the 2010 Southeastern Conference Tournament.
Nelson held the SEC’s top offensive team to one run on five hits to become the first UA pitcher since Wade LeBlanc (4 CG in 2004) to throw three straight complete games. He added six strikeouts and no walks and finished with 97 total pitches. He retired the last six AU hitters on 12 total pitches in the eighth and ninth innings, including a three-up, three-down ninth inning against the middle of the Tigers’ batting order – Brian Fletcher, Hunter Morris and Kevin Patterson.
“For starters, Nelson was outstanding and had all three pitches working today,” Gaspard said. “He set the tempo for the game quickly. Throwing 97 pitches against an offensive team like Auburn just does not happen that often. My credit goes to Jimmy Nelson.”
Auburn, who led the SEC in eight offensive categories, including batting average, runs scored, home run and RBI, was held to its second-lowest run total of the season and fewest hit total of the season. The Tigers were shutout by South Carolina on March 27. Their previous low for hits (7) came against Arizona State on March 14 and Vanderbilt on April 18.
Alabama (35-21) won its sixth straight game overall and ended its five-game losing streak in SEC Tournament openers that dated back to the 2003 season.
The Crimson Tide scored all seven runs with two outs and broke open a one-run game with five runs over the final three innings. Alabama has scored 33 of its last 45 runs in the seventh inning or later.
Alabama carried a 2-1 lead into the seventh inning before scoring in each of the last three innings for its third straight postseason win over its arch-rival.
“Our team has played with so much energy these past few games and that happens with quality starts.” Gaspard added. “Today, as the game got deeper, our energy in our dugout kept growing. Energy, confidence and timely hits wrapped up our game.”
A pair of two-out extra base hits gave Alabama a 3-1 lead in the seventh inning. Junior catcher Brock Bennett started the rally with a double to left and scored on sophomore center fielder Taylor Dugas’ triple off the right-center field wall to put the Tide up by two runs.
Alabama added another run in the eighth when senior first baseman Clay Jones stroked a double to right-center and scored on senior third baseman Jake Smith’s two-out double over Fletcher’s head in left field to make it 4-1.
The Crimson broke the game open with three runs in the ninth inning off two Auburn relievers. Bennett ripped a one-out single to center off lefty Sean Ray and Dugas followed with a walk to put runners at first and second.
Right-hander Zach Blatt replaced Ray on the mound and retired junior shortstop Josh Rutledge on a first-pitch, pop up to center field. Junior second baseman Ross Wilson was hit by a pitch to load the bases and Blatt issued a bases-loaded walk to Jones that scored Bennett and gave UA a 5-1 lead.
Junior David Kindred lined a 2-2 pitch into left field to score Dugas and Wilson as the Tide extended its lead to 7-1.