The No. 16 Alabama baseball team scored four runs in the second inning and then rode the clutch pitching of junior right-hander Jimmy Nelson, senior left-hander Jonathan Smart and senior right-hander Jake Smith to a 5-4 win over No. 13 Clemson in game one of the 2010 NCAA Super Regional in front of a jam-packed crowd of 6,346 fans at Doug Kingsmore Stadium on Saturday night.
Alabama (42-23) has won 13 of its last 15 games, including a four-game winning streak, and moved to within one win of its first College World Series appearance since 1999 with the one-run win over the Tigers.
The two teams will meet in game two of this best-of-three series on Sunday, June 13, at 7:05 p.m. (EDT). Alabama needs one more win to advance to the 2010 College World Series next week in Omaha, Neb. Clemson would need a win on Sunday and again on Monday to advance.
Alabama took a 5-0 lead with a run in the second inning and four two-out runs in the third inning off Clemson lefty Casey Harman.
Senior third baseman Jake Smith gave Alabama a 1-0 lead with a solo home run that reached the parking out beyond the left field wall. It was Smith's 14th home run of the season, with 13 of those home runs coming after April 10.
After taking the lead with the long ball in the second inning, Alabama scored four runs with a little small ball in the third inning to take a 5-0 lead. Sophomore center fielder Taylor Dugas slapped a leadoff single to center and junior shortstop Josh Rutledge reached when Harman misplayed his sacrifice bunt.
Junior second baseman Ross Wilson moved both runners into scoring position with a sacrifice bunt and senior first baseman Clay Jones was hit a pitch to load the bases with one out. Harman came back to strike out Smith and the Tigers appeared to get out of the inning before third baseman Jon Hinson booted a ground ball off the bat of sophomore left fielder Jon Kelton that scored Dugas from third and kept the bases loaded. Freshman right fielder Andrew Miller followed with a two-run single and freshman DH Brett Booth drove in another run with a single up the middle to put the Tide in front 5-0.
Clemson came right back with three runs in the bottom of the third to close the gap to 5-3. The inning started when Nelson walked the eight-hole hitter Wilson Boyd on four pitches. After Spencer Kieboom struck out, Will Lamb and Mike Freeman followed with back-to-back singles as Boyd crossed the plate with the first run.
Jeff Schaus followed with a sacrifice fly to left field to score Lamb as the Tigers made it 5-2. Kyle Parker and Brad Miller then stroked a pair of two-out hits as Freeman scored on Miller's single up the middle to make it 5-3.
Both teams missed scoring opportunities in the middle innings.
Alabama put the leadoff man on base in each of the first six innings, but failed to score after the third inning. Dugas led off the fourth with a single, but was stranded at third. Smith had a leadoff single in the fifth before Miller hit into an inning-ending double play. Freshman DH Brett Booth led off the sixth inning with a double and Dugas added a one-out single, but again the Tide was held scoreless.
Clemson missed scoring chances, too. The Tigers loaded the bases with one out in the fifth before Miller's ground ball was knocked down by Wilson at second base and converted into inning-ending double play.
The Tigers got a pinch-hit, two-out triple from Chris Epps in the sixth inning to score Wilson Boyd to cut the lead to 5-4.
Clemson could get no closer despite loading the bases in the seventh to finally chase Nelson from the game. Schaus lined a one-out single to right and Nelson issued back-to-back, two-out walks to Miller and Hinson.
Smart then replaced Nelson on the mound and got Richie Shaffer to line out to Miller in right field to end the inning as the Tigers left the bases loaded. Clemson stranded 10 bases runners, while Alabama left seven men on base.
Smart allowed a leadoff single to Boyd in the eighth and Alabama turned the game over to Smith, who got a couple of nifty defensive plays to hold the lead.
Clemson catcher John Nester fouled out on a bunt to junior catcher Brock Bennett, who made a basket catch running toward the Tigers' dug out. After Lamb reached on an infield hit, Freeman hit into an inning-ending double play started again by Wilson, who made three stellar defensive plays for the Tide.
Smith closed out the game with a perfect ninth inning. He struck out Schaus, the Tigers' leading RBI man, on a called third strike for the first out. Schaus protested the call and was ejected by home plate umpire Dan Mascorro. Smith then got Parker, Clemson's top home run hitter, on a called third strike. Miller grounded out to Rutledge to end the game.