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Bama headed to title game

By By Mark Etheridge/Special to The Star
May 26, 2002
Alabama advanced to the SEC Tournament Final with a dramatic 11-9 see-saw win over Florida Saturday night. The Crimson Tide hit a season-high four home runs including back-to-back homers by Travis Garner and Peter Stonard. This was the second game of the day between the teams as Florida had forced another game with 7-4 win earlier Saturday.
In the nightcap, the Tide trailed 7-2 before a productive fourth inning that saw Garner hit a grand slam just over the wall in left and Stonard take the next pitch over the wall in right. Jeremy Brown and Scott McClanahan also homered in the win.
In what was a definitely a hitters' night, Alabama reliever Brian Reed (5-0) stymied the Gator attack from his arrival in the fifth until he left with an out in the ninth. Jeffrey Norris came in the game, threw one pitch, and got a game-ending double play.
Alabama (47-13) got its first scoring off Florida starter David Bartelt in the top of the first. Brown blasted a two-run homer to left. The dinger was Brown's first homer in 91 at-bats spanning back to his last homer on April 5, also versus Florida. Brown also walked in the fourth to become the first player in SEC history to have 300 hits and 200 walks.
The Bama defense came to play in the bottom of the first as left fielder Chad White made a diving catch to rob Aaron Davidson of a hit. The shortstop Adam Pavkovich ranged deep in the hole, whirled and fired a strike to nab Osborn to end the inning.
Ben Harrison tied the game in the second with a two-run homer of his own. His shot scored Ryan Shealy who had singled.
Florida (43-17) chased Tide starter Jared Woodward with a five run third inning. Matt Goss singled. Mark Kiger beat out a bunt and Woodward's throw to first ended in right field allowing Goss to score and Kiger to reach third. Davidson doubled scoring Kiger. Ryan Shealy doubled to center scoring Davidson. Harrison followed with a triple to center to get Shealy in. David Klebonis singled off reliever Brent Carter allowing Harrison to score completing the five run outburst.
The Tide did not trail long scoring five of their own on back-to-back homers. Alabama loaded the bases in the fourth as Brent Boyd doubled, White singled, and Pavkovich walked. With two outs Garner hit his grand slam.
The very next pitch, Stonard lifted a high fly to right that carried for a homer. "It was a first pitch fastball inside", Stonard said. "I got the bat head on it and barely got enough to get it out of here. That turned the momentum. It is easy to get a big hit after what Travis did."
The Gators added an unearned run in the fifth on a Rice error on a bunt play. They would later load the bases but reliever Brian Reed got a fielder's choice and two fly outs to strand the bags full.
Garner and Stonard teamed up again in the sixth as Garner singled, stole second, and scored on Stonard's double to right. Stonard scored from second as Kiger could not handle a smash by Brown for an error. McClanahan then smashed a no-doubt home run to left. The round-tripper was McClanahan's second of the Tournament and fourteenth of the season.
Florida made things interesting in the ninth. Shealy and Jeff Corsaletti both singled and advanced when Reed was called for a balk. Sobieraj grounded to short but Pavkovich mishandled the ball for an error. Shealy scored cutting the lead to two. After a wild pitch moved both runners into scoring position, Matt Maley walked to load the bases.
That ended the night for Reed as Wells made the move to the pen bringing in the lefty Norris to face the lefthanded hitting Goss. Goss swung at the first pitch tapping it back to Norris who lateraled the ball home to Brown who then fired to first to end the game.
In game one, Florida jumped out to a five run lead and held on to beat Alabama 7-4. The Tide had already beaten UF four times this season and twelve times overall since 1997. Number thirteen truly was unlucky for the Crimson Tide on Saturday morning.
The Gators (43-16) scratched off Sanders in the first. SEC Batting champ Kiger singled to right. Osborn followed with a long home run to left, his fourteenth of the season.
In the second UF loaded the bases with no outs. Matt Goss walked and Brian Rose was hit by a pitch. Aaron Sobieraj beat out a sacrifice attempt for a single. After Sanders struck out Davidson, Kiger ripped a single to left scoring Goss. Osborn lifted a sac fly to left scoring Rose. On the throw home, first baseman Boyd cut off the throw and tried to fire it home. The ball skipped past the catcher and rolled into the dugout allowing Sobieraj to score giving the Gators a five run lead.
Sanders (8-3) pitched seven innings. He gave up nine runs and six hits. He struck out and walked four apiece. Josh Baker relieved him in the eighth. Baker was making his second appearance after missing seven weeks with a rotator cuff injury. Baker had been the Tide's Saturday starter before the injury after turning down six figures as the fourth round draft choice of the Texas Rangers.
Gator starter Mike Pete (4-0) held the Tide to seven hits and three runs over seven innings. He retired fourteen of his twenty-one outs by outfield flies taking advantage of the cavernous Hoover Met dimensions. Kevin Coleman picked up his sixth save.
Alabama will face the winner of late Saturday night's LSU-South Carolina matchup at 3 p.m. today for the title. Jeffrey Norris, Eric Mennen, and Landon Brazell are possibilities to start the championship game. Wells indicated he would not use Wednesday's starter Taylor Tankersley Sunday.