ATLANTA — Jake Smith gave all the credit for Alabama’s regional championship to pitcher Nathan Kilcrease.
“He’s awesome, small in stature, big in heart,” Smith said. “That’s what I’ve always said about him. He’s one of the greatest competitors I’ve ever played with.”
Smith drove in four runs, Kilcrease held Georgia Tech scoreless over his final five innings of relief and Alabama beat the Yellow Jackets 10-8 to win the Atlanta Regional title on Monday.
The Crimson Tide (41-23) won three games in two days to advance to an NCAA super regional for the first time since 2006. Alabama won for the 12th time in 14 games, totaling 18 runs in the last two games to eliminate Georgia Tech (47-15).
“You guys saw it with Kilcrease,” Tide coach Mitch Gaspard said. “He just kept battling. When it got to the end of the game, I think as much as anything this team believes so much in that kid that we were going to keep the ball in his hands and we were going to win or lose with (No.) 28 on the mound.”
With the score tied at 8 in the sixth, Georgia Tech’s Patrick Long issued three straight walks, the last of which came against Smith and put Alabama up a run. Jon Kelton followed with a fielder’s choice RBI.
The Yellow Jackets tied the score at 8 against Kilcrease (8-2) in the fourth on RBI singles by Cole Leonida and Thomas Nichols, but Georgia Tech was punchless thereafter.
The pivotal inning was the Alabama sixth.
Long, the first of three Georgia Tech relievers, issued three straight walks, the last of which came against Smith and put Alabama up 9-8.
Jon Kelton followed with a fielder’s choice RBI to give the Tide a 10-8 lead.
Kilcrease allowed eight hits, two runs, two walks and struck out eight. With runners on first and third in the ninth, the sophomore right-hander led a celebration on the field after Derek Dietrich lined out to left.
Jackets coach Danny Hall couldn’t hide his team’s disappointment.
“In the ninth, we ended up having Dietrich up there with the game still hanging in the balance,” Hall said. “We just couldn’t quite get it done.”
Jed Bradley (9-5) gave up nine hits, nine runs and three walks with four strikeouts. In his last three starts — a span of 15 2-3 innings — the left-hander went 0-3 with a 9.77 ERA.
“Many times it comes down to a pitch, a play, an at-bat,” Hall said. “We kind of let the game get out of hand, but the five-run inning definitely hurt. I felt like we had great at-bats and the right people at the plate to trying to come back.”
George Henry/The Associated Press