BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Alabama used a five-run first inning and starting pitcher Nathan Kilcrease struck out a career-high 10 batters as the Crimson Tide posted a 7-4 win over the No. 18 ranked Arkansas Razorbacks in the opening game of the 2011 Southeastern Conference Baseball Tournament on Wednesday morning from Regions Park in Hoover, Ala.
Seventh seeded Alabama (33-24) got another great start from Kilcrease, the reigning SEC Pitcher of the Week. Kilcrease (7-4), from Phenix City, Ala., tied his season and career-high with 10 strikeouts, to keep the SEC Western Division Champion and two-seeded Razorbacks' bats quiet. He finished the game allowing four runs (one earned) on seven hits in 8.0 innings. Jonathan Smart pitched a scoreless ninth inning to pick up his 10th save of the season.
"Nathan (Kilcrease) has delivered for us time and time again, and today was no different," UA head coach Mitch Gaspard said. "It seems like every time we need one, he gives us one of his best outings. Today he had the most strikeouts he's had in a game, and it came against an SEC opponent. I thought our team competed really hard, and in an early game, came out ready to play."
The Crimson Tide collected 11 hits en route to a win in the first game of the SEC Tournament, which started at 9:30 a.m. CT, for the second season in a row. Taylor Dugas, Brett Booth, Andrew Miller and Jared Reaves had two hits each for Alabama. Dugas finished 2-for-4 with a home run, a walk and two runs scored. Booth, who is hitting .407 (11-for-27) with a team high six RBI over the past seven games, was 2-for-4 with two RBI and two runs scored.
Miller had a single and a double, drove in one and scored once and Reaves had a pair of singles. Hunter Gregory was 1-for-3 with two RBI.
Alabama posted its biggest first inning of the season, scoring five runs and chasing Arkansas starting and losing pitcher Randall Fant (3-4) before the inning ended. Fant lasted just two-thirds of an inning, allowing five runs (four earned) on five hits. The Tide finished the inning with five hits that included a two RBI single by Booth, a RBI double by Miller, and an RBI bunt single by Gregory. The first run came across when Fant balked with the bases loaded.
"We got off to a really quick start in the game with a really good first inning," Gaspard said. "I thought the balk really energized us and got us started, then we delivered some key hits after that and took advantage of some opportunities to get off to a 5-0 lead. With Kilcrease on the mound we felt pretty good, cause we knew he would pound the strike zone and carry us the rest of the way."
After back-to-back one out singles by Booth and Miller in the third inning, Gregory's sac bunt scored Booth to extend Alabama's lead to 6-0. Arkansas got to Kilcrease in the fifth inning, scoring three unearned runs to cut the Tide's lead in half (6-3). A single by Collin Kuhn drove in the first run and a double by James McCann pushed across two.
Alabama got a run back in the sixth inning when Dugas hit his team-leading sixth home run of the season. Dugas blasted a 3-1 pitch over the right field fence off reliever Brandon Moore. Moore took over the Fant and finished the game for the Razorbacks, throwing 8.1 innings, allowing two earned runs on six hits with two strikeouts.
The Razorbacks got the run back in the bottom half of the inning when a sac fly by Tim Carver pushed Matt Reynolds, who doubled to lead off the inning, across the plate to move the score to 7-4 in favor of the Tide.