May 19, 2006
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee baseball team put forth a valiant effort against eighth-ranked Alabama Friday on Senior Night, but the Crimson Tide proved too strong, pulling away for a 5-3 victory at Lindsey Nelson Stadium. The loss officially eliminates the Volunteers from a chance at earning a berth in next week's SEC Tournament. UT's record now stands at 31-23 (11-17 SEC) this season.
Tennessee took a 3-2 lead with two runs in the bottom of the sixth and appeared to have some much-needed momentum heading into the final three frames. But in the seventh inning, Alabama third baseman Matt Downs knotted the score with his third RBI basehit of the night. Two runs in the eighth gave Alabama (38-17, 19-10 SEC) all it would need to clinch the series.
After pounding out 18 hits in Thursday's series-opening win, Alabama wasted little time getting its offense started Friday. Leadoff man Emeel Salem started the game with a triple, and he later scored on an RBI basehit by Downs.
Vols catcher J.P. Arencibia reached on a single to lead off the bottom of the second, and later advanced to third base when a pickoff attempt by Alabama starting pitcher Wade LeBlanc eluded first baseman Spencer Pennington. An RBI groundout by Vols right fielder Brian Van Kirk plated Arencibia to tie the game at 1-1.
Downs logged another RBI single in the third inning, driving in outfielder Brandon Belcher and giving the Tide a 2-1 lead.
The Crimson Tide stranded a pair of runners in scoring position in the top of the fifth after Vols starting pitcher James Adkins recorded back-to-back strikeouts to end the threat.
Tennessee third baseman Cody Brown led off the bottom of the sixth with a game-tying solo homer, and the Vols then proceeded to put each of their next three batters on base. An RBI sacrifice fly by Arencibia allowed centerfielder Julio Borbon to score from third and give UT its first lead of the game, 3-2.
But Downs' third RBI single of the evening re-tied the game in the top of the seventh, and the Tide carried that momentum into the eighth, during which they scored two runs to take a 5-3 lead. Both runs came on a two-RBI basehit by Brandon Belcher.
LeBlanc (9-0) was lifted after surrendering back-to-back singles to begin the bottom of the eighth. Right-hander David Robertson then entered the game and - following a flyball out - hit Arencibia with a pitch to load the bases with one out. Tennessee was unable to capitalize, however, as an inning-ending double play killed the threat and kept Alabama's two-run lead intact. Robertson finished things off for UA and logged his ninth save of the season.
Adkins allowed five runs on seven hits with four walks and five strikeouts through seven innings. He fell to 8-6 with the loss. Junior closer Sean Watson threw two shutout innings out of the bullpen for UT.
Tennessee second baseman Michael Rivera broke the school record for games played Friday by taking the field for his 218th career contest. Rivera passed former record-holder Ed Lewis, who saw action in 217 games from 1993-96.
Saturday's series finale begins at 7 p.m. ET and will be televised regionally on CSS. Junior right-hander Deunte Heath (4-2, 4.22 ERA) gets the start for Tennessee opposite Alabama right-hander Tommy Hunter (8-3, 3.34 ERA).