Alabama avenges loss, eliminates Southeast

Sunday, June 2, 2002

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Revenge was sweet for Alabama Saturday night as the Crimson Tide ended Southeast Missouri State University's season.

Alabama, which suffered an upset loss to Southeast Friday night during the first round of the NCAA Tuscaloosa Regional, eliminated the Indians 7-4 in the loser's bracket final.

Top-seeded and host Alabama (50-14), which earlier in the day eliminated second-seeded Auburn 6-3, will play third-seeded Florida Atlantic at 2 p.m. today in the championship round. The Owls (45-18) are the only undefeated tournament team, meaning Alabama needs to beat them twice to win the title.

Fourth-seeded Southeast, which earlier Saturday fell to Florida Atlantic 12-6 in the winner's bracket final, finishes its impressive year with a 37-20 record.

"It's really difficult right now with the great group of seniors we have," Southeast coach Mark Hogan said. "But this is a group I'm extremely proud of. It's a shame it had to end the way it did, but we faced a great club tonight and we battled until the end. We never gave up."

After beating sixth-ranked Alabama by an identical 7-4 count Friday night for their first-ever NCAA Tournament victory on the Division I level, the Indians could do little with the charged-up Crimson Tide in the rematch, at least not until the late going.

Particularly tough on Southeast was Alabama left-hander Jeffrey Norris (6-1), who pitched into the ninth inning and constantly baffled the Indians with an assortment of off-speed deliveries until tiring late.

Norris held Southeast hitless through four innings and wound up allowing eight hits and four runs in eight-plus innings before leaving after giving up a leadoff double to Zach Borowiak in the ninth. Norris struck out eight and walked two.

"We survived another one. That's the main thing," Alabama coach Jim Wells said. "Jeff gave us what we wanted. We went with him as long as we could."

Said Norris, "Something that helped me tonight that I hadn't had was my changeup. It helped me keep them off balance."

Three Southeast hurlers combined to allow 12 hits. Starter Donnie Fuller (3-2), who had been so impressive in recent weeks, took the loss, although he was solid. In five innings, Fuller allowed three runs and six hits, with three strikeouts and three walks.

Tim Alvarez gave up four runs (three earned) and four hits in 1 1/3 innings.

Brad Purcell, who started and took the loss against Florida Atlantic earlier in the day, gave up two hits in 2 2/3 scoreless innings.

Vern Hatton had one of the offensive highlights for the Indians as he drilled a three-run home run in the bottom of the eighth inning, cutting Alabama's lead to 7-4. It was Hatton's nine homer of the season.

Borowiak was the lone Indian with two hits. Clemente Bonilla had a single as the four-year starter ended his Southeast career with a 20-game hitting streak.

"I'm very proud of our team. We got better from day one to the end of the season," Bonilla said. "It's a shame it has to end, but we did play a great club."

For Alabama, Peter Stonard and Chad White each had three hits.

Norris and Fuller were locked up in a scoreless duel through four innings before the Crimson Tide finally broke through with a three-run fifth that featured four hits. Stonard had an RBI double while Scott McClanahan and Jeremy Brown each delivered RBI singles.

Southeast got its first run in the bottom of the fifth. Tristen McDonald led off with a single and advanced to second when the ball was misplayed in the outfield. With two outs, Eric Hoffman singled to score McDonald.

The Crimson Tide got an unearned run off of Alvarez in the sixth and then touched Alvarez for three runs in the seventh as they opened up a 7-1 lead.

Hatton's three-run blast in the eighth got the Indians relatively close and they made things interesting in the ninth.

After Borowiak's leadoff double knocked out Norris, Hoffman drew a one-out walk to bring the tying run to the plate. But Taylor Tankersley struck out Brice Nicholas and got Denver Stuckey on a fly ball to center field to notch his seventh save of the season.

"I was really proud of the way we finished the game and brought the tying run to the plate," Hogan said. "It would have been easy to fold up after getting down 7-1 and in such a hostile environment, but that's not what this club has been about all year."

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