June 6, 2010
ATLANTA – Jake Smith homered to key a four-run Alabama rally in the second inning and pitched two shutout innings of relief to secure the win as the Crimson Tide defeated Mercer, 5-3, Sunday afternoon in an elimination game of the NCAA Atlanta Baseball Regional at Russ Chandler Stadium.
Alabama (39-23), the regional’s No. 2 seed, advanced out of the loser’s bracket to face top-seeded and undefeated Georgia Tech (47-13) at 7 p.m. A Crimson Tide win would force a second and deciding championship Monday night at 7 p.m. Tech would be the regional champions with a victory. Mercer’s season, which included its first-ever NCAA Tournament win in any sport, ended at 38-24.
A crowd of 1,191 saw both teams go to their bullpens early in this game and get qualify efforts. Tucker Hawley (2-1) went 4 1/3 innings for the Tide in relief of starter Jason Townsend and earned the win after allowing just one run and four hits. He struck out four and did not walk a batter.
“I came out and just tried to execute on the pitchers that were called,” said Hawley. “I worked down on the knees and tried to work ahead of the count as best as possible.”
Smith came on in the eighth and picked up his fifth save of the season, allowing two hits and a walk in two innings of work. The Bears put to runners on base in the ninth on a hit and a walk, but left them stranded when Jacob Tanis fouled out for the final out.
After spotting the Bears a run in the first on Thomas Carroll’s sacrifice fly, Alabama scored four times in the second inning against Mercer starter Justice French (3-4) to take a lead it would not relinquish. Smith led off with his 12th home run of the season, Cody Trotter drove home two with a single, and Taylor Dugas doubled home another.
“I thought it was big for us to come out and get those four runs in the second inning,” said Alabama head coach Mitch Gaspard. “It was great to get a lead and hold on. A lot of credit has to go to Mercer. They pitched well and offensively we did not have a lot going for us.”
“I thought when [Tucker] Hawley came in, he was the key. He held the lead and gave us some really good innings until [Jake] Smith came in to close it for us in the end. The big thing today was find a way to win the game and give ourselves a chance for tonight and that was what we were able to do.”
Mercer got one back in the third with three straight one-out hits, cutting the deficit to 4-2 on Tanis’ RBI single. Back-to-back doubles by Tanis and Carroll to lead off the sixth brought the Bears within 4-3. Tanis finished the game with three hits of the Bears’ 12 hits.
The Tide got an insurance run in its half of the sixth for a 5-3 lead on Andrew Miller’s RBI single that followed a hit by Smith and a walk to Josh Kelton. Hawley and Smith did the rest.
“I am so happy for these guys,” said Mercer coach Craig Gibson. “They stayed with us and fought hard. It took us seven years to get to this stage, and I think we competed well once we got here. We won yesterday and fought hard today.”
Alabama won their first-round game, 11-2, over Elon, before falling into the loser’s bracket, 5-2, at the hands of Georgia Tech Saturday. Sunday night’s meeting will be the 67th between the two former Southeastern Conference rivals.