It was an incredible week of baseball for starting Alabama outfielder Kent Matthes.
Auburn Overcomes Tide in Montgomery
The baseball version of Alabama versus Auburn in the Max Credit Union Capital City Classic marked the first time in 13 years the two teams have played in a regular season non-conference game. There were pep bands and cheerleaders for each team to go along with the 7,489 fans that were scattered throughout the standing-room-only crowd.
The extracurricular histrionics also included an Auburn cheerleader falling near the third-base coach's box during one of the early innings (she wasn't hurt) as well as a fireworks show set to music after the game. Alabama Coach Jim Wells called the atmosphere "outstanding" and "first class" leaving hope that the game will again become a mainstay in Montgomery.
And while the football game was a one-sided affair (Alabama 21 first downs, Auburn 8, Alabama 412 yards total offense 412, Auburn 170), the baseball game was a back-and-forth affair that ended with Auburn on top 8-7.
The first two innings were all Auburn's. The Tigers took a 4-0 lead. Bama then powered in three in the third to close the gap, but Auburn answered with two runs of small ball in the fourth. Bama's four-run eighth gave the Tide a short-lived 7-6 lead, but Auburn cracked Bama's stud closer for two in the ninth for the winning margin.
"These are SEC-type games," Wells said. "The game swings and you've got to get three outs (to win in the ninth). The other team's not going to lie down."
Tide closer Jimmy Nelson (1-1) allowed two runs and three hits in the ninth inning for his first loss of the season, but that included a fly ball in center field Wells thought was misplayed and a sharp grounder towards first that might have been fielded. The two runs were the first runs allowed by the Alabama sophomore this season and snapped a streak of 19 1/3 consecutive innings without an earned run by the Tide bullpen,
Alabama starting pitcher David Head, normally one of Bama's best, was unsteady to start. He walked the first two batters of the game then gave up a three-run double to Brian Fletcher in the first inning, throwing 38 pitches in the first.
"Head's good, but he's new at this," Alabama Head Coach Jim Wells said after the game, "You get out there with 7,000 people in the stands yelling and screaming – he wasn't ready for this."
Kent Matthes and Jake Smith carried most of the offensive weight for the Tide. Matthes' third-inning home run to make the score 4-3 cleared the 400-foot center field fence with room to spare. Matthes has hit safely in all 12 games he's played for the Tide this year. He was walked twice Wednesday. Smith missed a home run to center by inches in the fourth, and hit the two-run blast that gave Alabama that 7-6 lead in the eighth.
Smith's takeaway was much like that of his coach. "We all have to figure out how to close out a game. We have to find another gear and get to it," he said. "I think we're playing averaging baseball right now for the talent we have."
Alabama will host Samford on Wednesday night at Sewell-Thomas Stadium in Tuscaloosa before opening conference play with top-ranked and defending SEC Champion Georgia at home this weekend.
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