Alabama Comeback Falls Short - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Alabama Comeback Falls Short

CLEMSON, S.C. – Alabama's remarkable postseason run ended two runs short at the 2010 NCAA Super Regional, as the No. 16 Crimson Tide fell to No. 13 Clemson 8-6 in the decisive third game on a hot and humid Monday afternoon at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.

Clemson (43-22) hit three home runs, including two home runs by first baseman Richie Shaffer, and took an 8-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning before Alabama brought the winning run to the plate with a wild two-out rally.

Down to its last out, Alabama used another two-out rally and nearly overcame a seven-run deficit.  The Crimson Tide scored five runs in the ninth inning with two outs and finished the postseason by scoring 38 of its 73 postseason runs with two outs.

"I've been coaching for 24 years as an assistant and a head coach, and I've never been more proud of a team than this group," Alabama head coach Mitch Gaspard said. "The way we finished up the season over the last month, the way we competed, was as good as any I've ever seen.  To put ourselves back into a position to win the game in the ninth inning speaks volumes about our team.  I couldn't be more proud to be the coach of this Alabama baseball team."

Freshman DH Brett Booth ignited the offense with a two-run home run down the right field line that closed the gap to 8-3.  Senior third baseman Jake Smith, who drew a four-pitch walk against Clemson reliever Kevin Brady, scored on Booth's first career postseason home run.

Following Booth's two-run homer, junior catcher Brock Bennett legged out an infield hit and sophomore center fielder Taylor Dugas and junior shortstop Josh Rutledge followed with back-to-back singles to load the bases.

Tomas Cruz replaced Brady on the mound and walked junior second baseman Ross Wilson to force home Bennett as Alabama closed the gap to 8-4.  Following Wilson's walk, senior first baseman Clay Jones hit a ground ball right between the legs of Clemson shortstop Brad Miller allowing Dugas and Rutledge to score to make it an 8-6 game.  It was Miller's third error of the game.

With runners at second and third and two outs, Clemson brought in left-hander Will Lamb to face Smith, who was batting for the second time in the inning and represented the winning run.  Smith fouled off the first pitch and then took two pitches out of the strike zone.  With a 2-1 count, Smith hit a fly ball to left-center field that was caught by Jeff Schaus to end the threat.

"You've got to come out and have something to get you going," Gaspard said. "Jake (Smith) drew a walk. Then, all of a sudden (Brett) Booth hits a home run.  Before you know it, you've got a couple of guys on and string a couple of hits together. That's when the belief started happening.  (Clay) Jones got on with the error. 

"The way this last month has played out, I felt pretty good with Jake Smith up in that spot with two outs.  He's run into some balls pretty good this weekend.  He's a guy we wanted up in that situation, and I thought he put a pretty good swing on it."

Alabama (43-25) closed the season by winning 13 of its last 17 games and had won three straight NCAA Tournament elimination games before the season-ending loss to Clemson.

Lamb picked up his second save of the season as he recorded the game's final out.  Clemson starter Dominic Leone (3-1) earned the win after he kept the Tide hitter's off balance into the sixth inning.

A true freshman, Leone held the Crimson Tide to one run on three hits in 5 2/3 innings with three strikeouts and one walk.  He left the game after Alabama loaded the bases with two outs in the sixth inning. 

Bennett was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning and Rutledge lined a one-out single to center.  After Wilson flied out to left field, Jones drew a walk to load the bases to chase Leone.

Following the walk, Alex Frederick replaced Leone on the mound and got out of the jam when Smith popped up to second baseman Mike Freeman on the first pitch to leave the bases loaded.

With momentum on its side, Clemson extended its lead on Shaffer's two-run home run to right-center field that gave the Tigers an 8-1 lead.  It was Shaffer's seventh home run of the season and second of the game.

Alabama took 1-0 lead with a run in the bottom of the first inning. Dugas reached on an error by Miller and then advanced to third on a two wild pitches by Leone. Wilson put the Tide in front with an RBI single to right as Dugas scored to give the Tide a brief 1-0 lead.

Clemson would score two runs in each of the next three innings off Alabama right-hander Nathan Kilcrease to take a 6-1 lead.  John Hinson's two-run home run in the second inning put the Tigers in front 2-1.  

Clemson stretched its lead to 4-1 on Miller's two-out, two-run double in the third inning.   Chris Epps and Freeman reached on back-to-back singles to open the third inning and both would score on Miller's double.

Shaffer led off the fourth with a solo home run to give Clemson a 5-1 lead. The Tigers would add a second run in the inning on Schaus' two-out double that scored Epps and put Clemson up 6-1.

Kilcrease (8-3) allowed six runs on 11 hits in five innings with two strikeouts and one walk.  It was his first loss since a 9-7 loss in 11 innings at No. 3 South Carolina on April 30.

Leone allowed a one-out single to Alabama freshman right fielder Andrew Miller in the second inning and then set down the next 10 UA hitters in order.  He got 11 outs on just 23 pitches during the second, third, fourth and fifth innings.

Alabama junior left-hander Jonathan Smart held the Tigers in check over the final four innings.  He held Clemson to two runs on five hits with three strikeouts and no walks.  He retired seven of the last eight batters he faced and allowed the offense one last shot in the ninth inning.

GAME NOTES:
*Alabama finished the season with a 42-25 overall record and one win from the College World Series.  The Crimson Tide closed the season by winning 13 of its last 17 games.

*Alabama recorded its 14th 40-win season in school history in 2010. The complete list of 40-win seasons include 1981 (41-15-1), 1983 (46-11), 1986 (46-20), 1991 (42-20), 1995 (42-23), 1996 (50-19), 1997 (56-14), 1998 (46-18), 1999 (53-16), 2000 (41-24), 2002 (51-15), 2005 (40-23), 2006 (44-21) and 2010 (42-25).

*Alabama scored five two-out runs in the ninth inning against Clemson to continue its postseason success with two outs. In 12 postseason games, Alabama scored 38 of its 73 runs with two outs.

*Alabama finished the season with a .977 fielding percentage, the highest in school history.  The previous record was a .971 fielding mark in set in 1996 and 2009.

*Sophomore center fielder Taylor Dugas went 1-for-5 and scored two runs in the loss to Clemson.  Dugas finished the season with a team-leading .395 (96-for-243) average in 67 games.

*Junior shortstop Josh Rutledge had two hits in the season finale and finished the year with 107 hits, tying G.W. Keller (1999) for the second most in a season in school history. David Magadan (1983) holds the single-season record with 114 hits.

*Rutledge finished the season with 69 RBI to set the Alabama single season record for most RBI by a shortstop.  The previous record was 66 RBI held by Andy Phillips in 1999.  Rutledge is also the first Alabama shortstop to lead the team in RBI since Steve Houlberg (28 RBI) in 1978.

*Junior second baseman Ross Wilson had two hits and two RBI in the loss to Clemson.  Wilson was the Tide's leading hitter this postseason with a .415 (17-for-41) average with two home runs and nine RBI.  He was second on the team with 10 runs scored.

*Freshman Brett Booth hit a two-run home run in the Tide's five-run ninth inning on Monday.  It was his second home run of the season and first career postseason home run.  In eight postseason games, Booth hit .357 (10-for-29) with one home run and four RBI.  He added two doubles and scored five runs.

2010 NCAA SUPER REGIONAL QUOTES
June 14, 2010
 
Alabama Head Coach Mitch Gaspard
"First of all, congratulations to Clemson.  Offensively, they were really good.  The last two games, they really jumped on us with their offense.  They put a lot of really good swings on a lot of pitches.  They were able to extend their lead.  Pitching-wise, I thought we battled really hard.  They just continued to put the barrel on a lot of balls.    

"I've been coaching for 24 years as an assistant and a head coach, and I've never been more proud of a team than this group.  The way we finished up the season over the last month, the way we competed, was as good as any I've ever seen.  To put ourselves back into a position to win the game in the ninth inning speaks volumes about our team.  I couldn't be more proud to be the coach of this Alabama baseball team."

Thoughts on his team's rally in the ninth inning:
"You've got to come out and have something to get
you going.  Jake (Smith) drew a walk. Then, all of a sudden (Brett) Booth hits a home run.  Before you know it, you've got a couple of guys on and string a couple of hits together. That's when the belief started happening.  (Clay) Jones got on with the error.  The way this last month has played out, I felt pretty good with Jake Smith up in that spot with two outs.  He's run into some balls pretty good this weekend.  He's a guy we wanted up in that situation, and I thought he put a pretty good swing on it."

On the team's early offensive struggles:
"We just never got into a good offensive rhythm.  We squared a couple of balls up, but they did a good job of positioning.  We hit two or three balls in that left-center gap where their left fielder cheated over and ran a couple of them down.  We just had a hard time stringing quality at-bats together."
 
Junior RHP Nathan Kilcrease
On pitching:
"I wasn't really tired. I just couldn't get into a rhythm out there. Every out I had I had to work hard for it. They did a great job of battling. I was pretty amped up in the first inning, but that was actually one of my better innings." 

On the heat:
"I don't think heat was really a factor. We play in weather like this all the time. We practice in this kind of heat almost every day. I just didn't have it today."

On the run in the last month:
"It's been awesome. The way we've played together has just been unbelievable. We keep believing and battling, just like that ninth inning, all the way until the last pitch. I've never been a part of a team like that and it's just been awesome." 

Junior 2B Ross Wilson
On ninth inning:
 "We just kept battling. (Kevin) Brady came out kind of wild, got himself in trouble and (Brett) Booth hits a home run, we got excited and kept getting guys on. You just never know what can happen. I didn't think they would pitch to Jake (Smith), or I really thought he was going to hit one out. It speaks volumes of our team that we can even start a comeback like that in the bottom of the ninth inning when everyone thought we were out of it."

On the run in the last month:
"For the longest time, we were scratching and clawing trying to get out of the funk we were in and it just happened one day. Everything started clicking like we knew it could. Pitching, hitting, defense; we kept getting key hits. I've been proud of all our guys. It's been a fun ride. We tried to just ride that wave out and unfortunately we didn't get to our ultimate goal but it's been fun."

Clemson Head Coach Jack Leggett
Opening Statement:
"That was a tremendous game for us.  I thought we came out to play offensively and we did a great job of scoring two runs in the second inning, two in the third and two in the fourth to keep the pressure on Alabama. We were swinging the bat really well and had some great at bats on a good pitcher. Dominic Leone stepped up. He was very aggressive with his fastball and competed for us. When we decided to name him our starter, we knew he was going to be a competitor.

"I couldn't be more proud of my team. We came from the depths in the middle of the season. We kept our heads in the game and kept on battling and working at it. We had some adversity on the way. You just had to know the game was going to end like it did the way the season has been going. Our kids battled, they showed some great toughness and everyone here at Clemson should be proud of them."

On the play of the freshmen:
"On the biggest game of the year, we started a freshman on the mound, a freshman on 1st base, and a freshman catcher who has really stepped up for us lately. Those kids did a great job for us. We had a little bit of experience and youth out there and everyone stepped up big in a big situation. It was awesome to see these kids play like we did." 

On choosing Leone vs Lamb:
"Some of Alabama's better hitters are right handed and Lamb didn't have a great outing last time up and we felt like we might need to use him in relief so we didn't DH him today. Instead we used Epps, who has been playing well lately, as our DH.  He just comes on this time of the year."

"Dominic works hard, you can tell by his attitude. He's a tough kid and has a great attitude. He works extremely hard and is in great shape. I think we gave him a little bit of a positive incentive with some runs and he took the lead from there. He did a great job for us."    

Pitcher Dominic Leone
On words of advice from coaches before game:
"Basically they just said stay within yourself and I really took that to heart.  The past couple of starts have been mechanically off and I just realized I need to settle down and throw strikes and make these guys work behind me."
 
On not getting frustrated after going down 1-0:
 "Like coach said, it has been a long season.  We can never make anything easy.  You just can't get down.  You have to keep going out and battling and I knew if I got down we wouldn't have as good of a shot as we did.  I just tried to stay as confident as possible and I knew that was just a one-time thing.  I knew we would pick it up, start playing better defense, throw strikes and keep hitting."

On gaining confidence after going up a few run:
"Oh, definitely.  Every time this team scores runs behind you, you know all you have to do is go out there and throw strikes.  I felt incredibly confident going back out there.  I knew it was my day, our day and we were going to keep putting runs on the board so I just had to keep them from scoring."
 
First Baseman Richie Schaffer
On adding runs throughout the game:
 "As an offense we just had a great approach to the game today.  We were squaring up on pitches we like and John Hinson got us started to put us up 2-1 and we kept going from there.  We just had a great approach at the plate all day and never backed off."

Third Baseman John Hinson
On ninth inning:
"It was full of drama.  The ninth inning was tough.  Going back to what Coach Leggett said, the whole season has been full of drama but we came together as a team and won.  That's all that really counts." 

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