June 3, 2011
The third-seeded Alabama Crimson Tide scored single runs in four of the first six innings and held on late to down second-seeded UCF 5-3 in the opening game of the 2011 NCAA Tallahassee Regional. The Knights (38-22) sent the tying run to the plate with two outs in the ninth but were unable to complete a comeback as Alabama (34-26) advanced in the winner’s bracket.
“Offensively, we had good pressure,” said Alabama Head Coach Mitch Gaspard. “We were able to tack on single runs as we went along. We had an opportunity, I thought, to stretch it out a couple of times and we just weren’t able to do that.”
Crimson Tide starter Nathan Kilcrease (8-4) pitched seven innings allowing just four hits while striking out 10 Knight batters. He threw 119 pitches, marking the third straight start in which the senior right-hander has thrown more than 100 pitches; he has won all three of those starts. Jonathan Smart finished off the last two innings picking up his 11th save of the year.
“I got a good feel for my change-up early in the game and I let coach Norris know,” said Kilcrease. “He just started calling it a lot. I had good movement on it and had good depth on the drop and I could locate my fastball pretty well when I needed to. My change-up has gotten a lot better; every game it gets better.”
“He mixed up his pitches very well,” said UCF outfielder Ronnie Richardson. “On fastball counts he was throwing off speed. Most pitchers throw a lot of fastballs but he was pitching backwards, keeping us pretty off balance. He did a pretty good job.”
The Crimson Tide racked up 14 hits but were unable to break the game open versus the Knights. UCF starter Brian Adkins (6-5) and reliever Johnny Sedlock kept Alabama at bay by limiting the Tide to five, one-run innings setting the stage for the Knight’s late rally. Darnell Sweeney started the potential rally with a two-out triple, his second hit of the game. Richardson followed with his second RBI of the day cutting the lead to 5-3 and brining the tying run to the plate but the Knights were unable to complete the comeback.
“I thought our guys battled all the way through,” said UCF Head Coach Terry Rooney. “Certainly any coach will tell you all you want when you get to that last inning, is to get that tying or winning run to the plate and we did. That has kind of been the hallmark of our team the entire year, just battling all the way to the very end and I was very proud of our guy’s effort out there.”
The Crimson Tide broke on top in the second inning thanks to catcher Brock Bennett. The junior catcher doubled to lead off the inning and came home on an Andrew Miller ground out. The Tide added to that 1-0 lead in the fourth loading the bases with one away. A sacrifice fly off the bat of number nine hitter Josh Sanders made it 2-0. It was the third RBI of the season for the senior.
After managing just one hit through the first three innings, UCF loaded the bases with two away in the bottom of the fourth highlighted by a head-first slide into first to beat out an infield hit by Travis Shreve. That hustle play set the stage for the Knights’ number nine hitter Sweeney who pushed in UCF’s first run by drawing a bases loaded walk off starter Kilcrease.
The Crimson Tide answered right back in the top of the fifth. Shortstop Jared Reaves doubled through the middle of the infield and Austen Smith followed with an RBI single pushing the Alabama lead to 3-1. The score moved to 4-1 in the sixth as Alabama scored in its third straight inning this time via an RBI double by leadoff hitter Taylor Dugas.
Just as they had done in the fourth, fifth and sixth, the Crimson Tide scored again in the seventh. Smith recorded his second RBI of the game as he hit the first homerun of the 2011 NCAA Tallahassee Regional, and his fifth of the season, to put the Tide up 5-1. The homerun trend continued in the bottom of the seventh as UCF centerfielder Ronnie Richardson went yard cutting the Alabama lead to 5-2 before tacking on one final run in the ninth.
The NCAA Tallahassee Regional continues this evening at 6:00 p.m. when top-seeded Florida State takes on Bethune-Cookman University.