May 20, 2009


CBI Live
More than a loss for the Crimson Tide


By Vince Ferrara

Special to


HOOVER, Ala. - In Game 4 of the first round of the SEC Baseball Tournament at Regions Park, the fifth-seed South Carolina Gamecocks (38-19) defeated the fourth-seed Alabama Crimson Tide (37-18) 9-5 in 11 innings. The Top 4 seeds all lost on Day 1 of the tournament.


What looked like a great night early for the Alabama baseball team turned into a grueling and intense 3:57 game that ended at 1:54 a.m. CT Thursday morning with frustration and devastation. Alabama's All-SEC third baseman Jake Smith suffered an unspecified leg injury trying to reach safely on the final out of the game at first base. Smith extended his stride while stepping on the bag and immediately collapsed in pain grabbing his right leg. He had an inflatable air cast put on his leg and was driven off in an ambulance. The injury to Smith overshadowed a frustrating night for the Crimson Tide that included Alabama's head coach getting ejected late in the game, numerous missed opportunities and a catcher having to play left field. Alabama could be staring at the possibility of not having one of its best players for the rest of the postseason.


Alabama head coach Jim Wells talked about the prospect of losing Smith. "It hurts us all the way around, he's such a good player. Pitching, he was just getting back to where we could use him on the mound. We wanted to use him a couple of times. What happened to Jake is way more important than any other stuff. It would be a blow to us for sure because he's a two-way player that hit .360 with 17 home runs."


Alabama jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first off South Carolina starter Blake Cooper (right) on Brandon May's two-run double and Smith's sacrifice fly. The Tide added a run in the fourth on Josh Rutledge's RBI groundout which made it 4-0.


South Carolina's DeAngelo Mack hit a two-run single in the fifth to cut the lead to two, 4-2. In the top of the sixth, Adam Matthews hit a three-run home run off of Alabama starter Del Howell to put the Gamecocks up 5 to 4.


In the seventh, Kent Matthes hit a solo home run to tie the game at 5. That's Matthes' 28th home-run of the season, which gives him sole possession of the all-time Alabama single-season home run record. He also now leads the nation in home runs, one more than Middle Tennessee's Bryce Brentz with 27 at the moment. Matthes is the SEC Player of the Year.


Alabama leads the SEC in virtually every offensive category. However, the Tide could only notch eight hits and left 13 men on base.


"Offensively we've got to control the outer half of the plate," Wells said. "People are really attacking that part of the plate and making us go the other way. The offense has carried us the entire year. We would not be here without them. We just need to make an adjustment there because people will continue to attack us in the same way."


South Carolina's Jackie Bradley Jr. went 3 for 6 and the bullpen pitched 4.1 innings of scoreless relief.


Alabama reliever Nathan Kilcrease pitched well in relief for Alabama before getting into trouble to start the top of the 11th. Reserve catcher Kyle Moore was called on to play left field after Taylor Dugas left with an injury and Tyler Odle was pinch-hit for in the 10th. With one out, Moore misjudged a line drive off the bat of Adam Matthews, which was ruled a double. Bobby Haney then hit a bloop single over third to put runners on the corners. Kilcrease then hit Scott Wingo with a pitch to load the bases.


Jimmy Nelson then entered the game in the 11th. He allowed the go-ahead run to score on a wild pitch that went to the backstop to make it 6-5 South Carolina. Nelson would then issue two more walks, record a strikeout, give-up a two-run double and get an inning-ending groundout. The damage, though, was done with Gamecocks up 9-5 headed to the bottom of the 11th.


Brandon May's two-out walk loaded the bases for Alabama in the bottom of the 11th, bringing the tying run to the plate in Jake Smith. Smith then grounded out to end the game and a South Carolina 9-5 win.


"Hyatt will go tomorrow," Wells said. "Hyatt will do his job. He's done it for 14 weeks. He'll certainly keep us in the game. Hyatt is the right guy to go to the mound, sure is."


South Carolina will take on Vanderbilt on Thursday (8:30 p.m. CT) and Alabama will play LSU in an elimination game on Thursday (1:30 p.m. CT).


#2 Florida vs. #3 Ole Miss is next, Thursday a few hours!


(photo by Jimmy Jones)