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April 16, 2014

Baseball: Alabama rolls to 5-2 win over UAB

BIRMINGHAM - With its best bat out of the lineup, the University of Alabama keeps scraping together enough offense to fill the void.

Without leading hitter Austen Smith for the third straight game, the No. 8 Crimson Tide tallied its fourth straight win, beating UAB 5-2 at Regions Field on Wednesday night.

This time out it was catcher Wade Wass providing the pop. The junior supplied three RBI including the go-ahead two-run single in the sixth and an RBI single in the eighth.

"When a guy goes down, a bat like Austen's, probably the biggest bat in our offense, we've got to find ways around that and pick him up," Wass said of Smith, who leads the team with a .355 average, four home runs and 26 RBI. "When something happens like that, you're just going to need more guys to step up and produce."

Smith is sidelined with a bone bruise in his left wrist, an injury he suffered in a win over Auburn on Saturday. He could make a return as soon as this weekend at Tennessee. Since Smith went down, Alabama beat Auburn on Sunday, topped Jackson State 8-1 last night and avenged last week's 2-1 home loss to the Blazers on Wednesday.

Wass, who starred in the same infield as Smith at Pensacola (Fla.) Catholic High, has racked up 14 RBI in his last 16 games. He is now second on the team behind Smith in RBI with 25.

Smith's injury has meant more playing time for Daniel Cucjen, who has stepped in at third base as normal third baseman Chance Vincent has slid over to play first for Smith. Cucjen did his part with a career-high three hits. Georgie Salem was 3 for 5 with two runs scored.

"I think it shows our depth," UA coach Mitch Gaspard said. His team has won four straight and begins the second half of its SEC conference schedule on Friday. "We've lost a few guys, had some guys injured for a series or games here and there and it seems like whoever we've plugged in has done a good job and that's what you have to do to be a good team."

Reaching back for a strategy that worked in its win in Tuscaloosa, the Blazers (24-13) went with an all-arms-on-deck pitching approach, using eight different pitchers with none recording more than 1 2/3 innings. It worked early; Alabama had nothing going in the first three innings and foiled golden scoring chances in the fourth and fifth. That all changed in the sixth inning when UAB saw its 1-0 lead evaporate with three UA runs.

Alabama (26-11) continues to get stellar starts from a bevy of pitchers. On Wednesday it was Geoffrey Bramblett (3-0) who allowed one run over five innings. Thomas Burrows tacked on a five-out effort to close out his sixth save of the year.

"I'd have to look back, but I can't even recall a poor start to be honest with you," Gaspard said. "It has been that many good starts and likewise out of the bullpen."

Playing in front of 3,089 fans, the largest crowd to watch a UAB home baseball game since 2008, had late life as it brought the tying runner to the plate in the eighth and ninth. Burrows worked his way out of both jams.

With or without Smith's bat, one thing has stayed the same: Three continues to be the Crimson Tide's magic number. It improved to 26-1 when scoring three runs or more this season.

Reach D.C. Reeves at dc@tidesports.com or 205-722-0196.



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