June 6, 2010

Courtesy of Alabama Athletics

Alabama scored four runs with two outs in the second inning and freshman right-hander Tucker Hawley turned in a stellar relief outing as the No. 29 Crimson Tide eliminated Mercer with a 5-3 win at the 2010 NCAA Atlanta Regional at Russ Chandler Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

Alabama (39-22) will meet No. 1 seed Georgia Tech in the championship game tonight at 6:06 p.m. (CDT) in a regionally televised game by Comcast Sports Southeast.  Alabama has to win tonight and then again on Monday, June 7, at 6:07 p.m. (CDT) to advance to the next week’s Super Regional.  Georgia Tech needs only one more win to advance.

Alabama scored four runs in the second inning to take a 4-1 lead.  Senior third baseman Jake Smith hit a game-tying home run to put the Crimson Tide offense on the board.

“I thought it was big to come out and get those four runs in the second inning,” Alabama head coach Mitch Gaspard said.  “It was great to get a lead and hold on.  A lot of credit goes to Mercer.  They pitched well and offensively we did not have a lot going for us.”

The Crimson Tide then plated three runs with two outs to take the lead.  Freshman right fielder Andrew Miller started the two-out rally with a single through the right side of the infield.  Freshman DH Brett Booth kept the inning going with a single to right-center field to send Miller to third base.  Booth moved into scoring position on the throw home.

Senior catcher Cody Trotter followed with a two-run single to left to score Miller and Booth to give Alabama a 3-1 lead.  Sophomore center fielder Taylor Dugas followed with an RBI double down the left field line to score Trotter and give the Tide a 4-1 lead.

Mercer (38-23) had taken a 1-0 lead in the first inning off UA starter Jason Townsend.  Billy Burns singled and later scored on Thomas Carroll’s sacrifice fly to give the Bears an early lead.

Townsend ran into more trouble in the third inning as Burns, Tyler McCarty and Jacob Tanis collected three straight hits to cut the UA lead to 4-2.  Tanis’ RBI single scored Burns and chased Townsend from the game.  The junior right-hander allowed two runs on six hits in 2 1/3 innings.

Hawley replaced Townsend on the mound and put momentum back on Alabama’s side as he got back-to-back fly outs from Carroll and Michael Langley as the Bears left the tying runs on base.

Hawley retired the first retired the first eight batters he faced before Mercer made it a one-run game in the sixth.  Tanis and Carroll ripped back-to-back doubles to pull the Bears to within 4-3, but Hawley left the tying run at third base as Joe Winker popped up to left field and Nick Dimauro grounded out.

“I thought Tucker was the key,” Gaspard added.  “He held the lead and gave us some really good innings until Smith came in to close it for us at the end. The big thing today was to find a way to win the game and give ourselves a chance for tonight (vs. Georgia Tech) and that is what we were able to do.”

Alabama added an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth inning to take a 5-3 lead.  Smith stroked a one-out single to center and moved to second when sophomore left fielder Jon Kelton drew a four-pitch walk.  Miller then followed with an RBI single up the middle to score Smith and put the Tide in front 5-3.

Hawley (2-1) worked 4 2/3 innings and allowed one run on four hits with four strikeouts and no walks for his first career postseason win.  In two tournament appearances, Hawley allowed two runs (one earned) on six hits in 6 2/3 innings with six strikeouts and no walks.

“I came out and tried to execute on the pitches that were called,” Hawley said.  “I worked down on the knees and tried to work ahead of the count as best as possible.”

Smith, who hit a game-tying home run in the second inning, worked the final two innings for his fifth save of the season. He allowed two hits in two scoreless innings with two strikeouts and one walk.  He stranded the tying runs on base in the ninth inning when he got Tanis to foul out with two runners on base to end the game.