June 3, 2005
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Evan Bush just wanted a hit. Any hit would do.
He got his wish, hitting a pair of home runs as he and Alabama both shook off batting slumps to beat Louisiana-Lafayette 7-5 in the first round of the New Orleans NCAA regional on Friday night.
"I just wanted a hit," said Bush, who was 5-for-40 since May 12 and went 0-for-12 in the Southeastern Conference tournament. "When you're struggling anything is good."
No. 2 seed Alabama, playing in its 17th NCAA tournament, had not hit the ball well as a team recently. In the last 12 games of the season, six of the nine Alabama batters hit less than .200. Even the team's leading hitter, Gabe Scott, was batting just .250.
Friday they had 10 hits and only struck out five times. The Crimson Tide also held off a late rally by the third-seeded Ragin Cajuns (47-18) for the win.
Louisiana-Lafayette jumped on Alabama quickly. Josh Landry tripled in the first inning and Jonathan Lucroy singled him in. But the 1-0 lead was a brief one.
Cajun right-hander Kevin Ardoin, the ULL ace who was 10-4 with a 3.42 ERA in 16 starts, had struggled in his last four starts. He added a fifth start to that list on Friday. Ardoin gave up two singles, had two wild pitches and hit a batter. When Bush hit a two-run homer, ULL coach Tony Robichaux had seen enough. He sent in Thad Montgomery, who got the last two outs, but by then the Crimson Tide was up 4-1.
"We knew going in it was a gamble," Robichaux said. "We went with a 10-game winner in hopes of his finding himself. That didn't happen. That four-run inning really put us behind the eight ball."
Justin Morgan doubled in another run for the Cajuns in the second inning, making it 4-2.
Alabama added a run in the fourth inning on a pair of ULL errors and an RBI single by Matt Grooms. Zac Welch homered to right in the fifth inning to give the Tide a 6-2 lead.
Alabama's top pitcher, Wade LeBlanc started strong, but appeared to tire suddenly in the sixth inning.
LeBlanc gave up a double to Alex Preciado to open the inning, then walked two batters to load the bases with one out. Morgan singled to left field to drive in a run to make it 6-3, knocking LeBlanc out. Jordan Davis replaced LeBlanc. He gave up one more run before Josh Landry hit into a double play to end the inning, but by then Louisiana-Lafayette had pulled to within one at 6-5.
"Last week I was able to finish the game," LeBlanc said. "I think mentally I lost focus, but maybe being tired had something to do with it."
Bush added his second homer of the night and 17th of the season in the seventh to give the Tide some breathing room at 7-5.
"The big thing that really hurt us throughout the game were the home runs," Robichaux said. "I felt that if any of those balls had stayed in the park we had a chance to slowly claw our way back."
LeBlanc (5-5) got the win and Ardoin (10-5) took the loss. David Robertson got his eighth save of the year.
Alabama will play Tulane Saturday night in the winner's bracket. Louisiana-Lafayette will face Southern University on Saturday afternoon.