by Knox Bardeen
HOOVER, Ala. - On the strength of a 10-strikeout performance on the mound from Nathan Kilcrease, and a five-run explosion from the Alabama bats in the first inning, the Crimson Tide upset second-seeded Arkansas, 7-4, in Game 1 of the SEC Baseball Tournament in Hoover, Ala. on Wednesday.
Alabama started quickly with five hits and five runs in the first inning, chasing Arkansas starting pitcher Randall Fant from the game in just 23 of an inning.
"We took advantage of some good opportunities to get off to a 5-0 lead," said Crimson Tide head coach Mitch Gaspard. "With Kilcrease on the mound I felt pretty good at that time. We knew he would pound the strike zone and do a good job the rest of the way."
And pound the strike zone Kilcrease did. His game plan entering the game was to attack hitters and get ahead of them. Kilcrease quickly got strikes against hitters and amassed six strikeouts through three innings. When he was pulled from the game after eight innings he had 10 strikeouts which tied a season high. It was the first time in his career he had reached the 10 strikeout plateau against an SEC team, according to Gaspard.
Kilcrease was able to follow his game plan, and other than a hiccup in the fifth inning where the Alabama senior said hitters started sitting on his slider a bit more, Kilcrease baffled Arkansas at the plate.
"When the offense comes out and explodes for five runs in the first, it makes it really easy to pitch," said Kilcrease. "I can basically do what I love to do and that's attack the strike zone and get ahead. Coach Norris called a really good game for me, he mixed and matched all my pitches."
Alabama center fielder Taylor Dugas led four Crimson Tide hitters who had two hits each. It was Dugas who hit the game's only home run, the first of the tournament, in the sixth inning. Dugas sheepishly said that the wind helped as it was blowing out.
"I got a pitch that was left over the middle and I put a good swing on it."
It was one of Arkansas relief pitcher Brandon Moore's few mistakes on the day. Moore pitched a season-high 8 13 innings in relief and gave up just six hits, giving the Razorbacks a chance to make a comeback.
Razorbacks head coach Dave Van Horn said that if he had known Moore had such a great outing in him today, he would have started him.
"The bright spot was Brandon Moore coming in," said Van Horn. "He gave us a chance and made it a ballgame. He sank his fastball to get some ground balls, his slider was OK, he mixed in a change up or two, not many, it was good to see."
Both teams will play on Thursday, Alabama in the winner's bracket and Arkansas in the loser's bracket. They await the outcome of the Florida-Mississippi State game.