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Sunday May 14, 2006No. 8 Alabama Takes Deciding Game Over Baseball, 8-4

Tuscaloosa, AL

Freshman Alex Avila tied his career high of four RBI to lift eighth-ranked Alabama (36-17/17-10 SEC) to an 8-4 win over Florida (26-27/8-19 SEC) in the rubber game of the teams’ weekend series on Sunday afternoon at Sewell-Thomas Stadium. Freshman Tommy Hunter (8-3) tied UA’s single-season rookie mark with his eighth victory by working seven innings, while sophomore David Robertson collected his eighth save with two scoreless frames. Junior Matt LaPorta (Port Charlotte, Fla.) belted a three-run homer in the eighth for the Gators, moving him within one round-tripper of Brad Wilkerson’s school record of 55.  

 

The victory enabled the Crimson Tide to maintain its lead in the Western Division standings ahead of Arkansas and kept Alabama two games behind Kentucky in the race for the SEC crown with three games to play. The loss officially eliminated the Gators from the SEC Tournament picture.  

 

Avila provided the Crimson Tide with a quick 2-0 lead in the first with a two-run homer to right field off junior Steven Porter (Ocoee, Fla.). Junior Emeel Salem had poked a leadoff single up the middle and scored on Avila’s fourth big fly of the campaign.

 

Florida cut the lead in half during the second stanza on a fielding error by Alabama. Junior Gavin Dickey (Tallahassee, Fla.) was hit by a pitch for the 12th time with one down and advanced to second on a grounder by junior Brian Leclerc (Clearwater, Fla.). Junior David Cash’s (Odessa, Fla.) ground ball was misplayed at short and Dickey slid underneath the tag of senior Kody Valverde for the Gators’ first run.

 

UF had runners on the corners in the third but were held at bay by Hunter. After juniors Adam Davis (Fort Myers, Fla.) and Brian Jeroloman (Wellington, Fla.) had consecutive one-out singles, the right-hander responded by striking out LaPorta and having sophomore Bryson Barber (Pensacola, Fla.) ground out. 

 

The Tide tacked on four runs in the third to build a 6-1 lead and chase Porter from the game. Junior Greg Paiml walked to start things off but was erased on Salem’s fielder’s choice. Salem moved into scoring position with his SEC-leading 29th stolen base and took third when senior Matt Downs’ grounder was mishandled. Porter was charged with a balk to bring Salem home and put Downs at second. A wild pitch from the hurler nudged the runner to third and a sacrifice fly to left by Avila was followed by back-to-back doubles from Valverde and senior Evan Bush to end the afternoon for Porter. The southpaw (2-1) allowed four hits, six runs (three earned) over 2.2 innings. Senior Spencer Pennington greeted senior Darren O’Day (Jacksonville, Fla.) with an RBI single into right to bring home Bush before the right-hander fanned the ninth batter of the inning, junior Brandon Belcher.    

 

Avila collected his fourth RBI of the game with a grounder in the fourth for a 7-1 Alabama advantage. Paiml led off with an infield hit, only to be forced at second on Salem’s fielder’s choice. Downs sliced a single through the left side and then executed a double steal with Salem to give the Tide a pair of runners in scoring position. Avila’s grounder to LaPorta plated Salem and O’Day issued a walk to Valverde before striking out Bush.

 

O’Day matched his season high with four innings out of the bullpen, a stint in which he scattered four hits and gave up one run, with four strikeouts and three walks. Junior David Hurst (Jacksonville, Fla.) worked one inning, giving up two hits and one run, with a walk and a strikeout.

 

A three-run bomb by LaPorta in the eighth narrowed Alabama’s lead to 7-4. Davis opened the inning with a double down the left-field line and Jeroloman punched a single into shallow center field to set the table for LaPorta, who cranked Hunter’s initial offering over the left-field wall for his 14th home run of 2006 and the 54th of his career. Robertson relieved Hunter (7.0 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 4 K, 0 BB) and induced a fly out by Barber before allowing a single to Dickey. Leclerc drew a walk and a grounder by Cash moved the runners into scoring position. Robertson had junior Austin Pride (Longwood, Fla.) fly out to the warning track in right to hold the margin at 7-4.

 

The Crimson Tide added an insurance run in the bottom of the frame on a bunt single by Downs to finalize the margin at 8-4. Belcher drew a leadoff walk and was sacrificed to second by Paiml. An infield hit from Salem pushed his teammate to third and a safety squeeze by Downs resulted in a four-run lead for the hosts. Following a fly-out by Avila, sophomore Josh Edmondson (LaGrange, Ga.) had Valverde ground out to Cash to force Salem at third base.

 

Alabama held a 10-8 advantage in hits, led by 2-for-5 efforts from Downs and Salem, while Davis was 3-for-5 for UF. The Gators will conclude their regular season at McKethan Stadium starting on Thursday against Western Division rival LSU. The first two games of the set will be at 6:30 p.m., with Saturday’s Senior Day finale scheduled as SEC-TV’s Game of the Week at 4 p.m. UF has not faced the Tigers during the regular season since 2003, when LSU claimed the first two games in Baton Rouge and the third game was a tie due to travel.

 

Game Notes

  • Florida’s last SEC series triumph was against Arkansas over the weekend of March 17-19.
  • The Gators were 4-11 on the road in league play after going 10-5 away from McKethan Stadium last year.
  • Alabama defeated UF for the first time in a regular-season series since 2002.

 

-UF-

 

 

 

 

 

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