Tankersley, Bama hammer State

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 23, 2002

[05/23/02]HOOVER, Ala. Whatever coin Jim Wells flipped Tuesday night should find a permanent spot in his jacket pocket.

The Alabama coach, agonizing over his starting pitcher for the Tide’s opening round game against Mississippi State, tossed the coin and it came up “Tankersley.”

What a decision it turned out to be.

The former Warren Central standout threw 71/3 innings and allowed just two first-inning runs in a 12-2 mercy-rule shortened game at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium. The win puts the Tide (45-12) into today’s matchup with Florida. The Bulldogs (33-23-1) played Georgia in an elimination game this morning at 10 a.m.

“The plan coming into the playoffs was to take one of our relievers and turn him into a starter,” said Wells, the SEC’s Coach of the Year. “It came down to Taylor and (Brian) Reed. Taylor threw a lot of pitches, but all-in-all, he did well.”

Tankersley, struggling to get his curveball over for strikes all game, loaded the bases in a 40-pitch first inning. He gave up a two-RBI double to ex-Vicksburg High standout Robby Goodson for the only two Bulldogs’ runs. He got Enrico Jones looking for the third out of the first.

“He was throwing mostly fastballs early, trying to get into a groove,” said Goodson, who also walked and extended his hitting streak to nine games. “After the first few innings when we got men on, he just shut us down.”

After the rocky top of the first, Scott McClanahan drove a Tanner Brock fastball over the left field wall to give the Tide a 3-2 lead. Tankersley said after the home run, he was able to settle in a little more.

“That was huge. It changes the momentum back in our favor,” The 6-foot lefty said. “Mac goes out there and hits a three-run bomb and gives us a huge shift in momentum. After that, we never laid off.”

Tankersley breezed through the second, then loaded the bases again in the top of the third with one out, but struck out Casey Long and coaxed a lazy flyout by Jones to end the threat with the Tide holding a 5-2 lead.

“When we didn’t capitlize on those two innings with the bases loaded, I thought that was huge,” MSU shortstop Matthew Maniscalco said. “(Tankersley) responded well after that and got in a groove because they had such a big lead.”

Alabama extended the lead to 8-2 in the bottom of the third and added two more in the fifth for a 10-2 lead. Brock lasted 21/3 innings and was charged with the loss.

Brett Boyd and Adam Pavkovich each had three hits for the Tide, while former Starkville Academy star Travis Garner, Peter Stonard, Jeremy Brown and Chad White each had two hits.

“We got hits throughout the lineup,” Wells said of his team’s 18 hits against three Mississippi State pitchers. “It was very important for us to swing the bats and score some runs.”

Steve Gendron, Matthew Brinson and Jon Mungle each had two hits for the Bulldogs.

Tankersley ended the game with three strikeouts and six walks as he recorded the fourth straight win for Alabama against the Bulldogs.

“Alabama’s got such a good hitting team,” Polk said. “They have had our number all year. That’s four-out-of-four against us this year.”

Goodson’s first-inning double was one of nine Bulldogs’ hits off Tankersley, who came out of the game in the top of the eighth with the bases loaded and one out. Jared Woodward threw two-thirds of an inning of relief and retired MSU in order. Pinch-hitter Zac Welch ended the game with an eighth-inning RBI single.

Goodson said he didn’t think he’d start Wednesday because of the lefty-lefty matchup against Tankersley, but was glad to face his old high school rival.

“This was the first game I’ve DH’d against a lefty this year,” Goodson said. “I’m glad I saw my name on the board this morning as a starter. I have more experience against him than anyone else on the team and I think that helped me out a bit.

“It was fun facing them, but the final score wasn’t much fun.”

Tankersley said Goodson showed the hitting he’s seen from him all season long.

“Robby had a great game and he got the best of me today,” Tankersley said. “He’s a great hitter and a great player and I tip my hat to him.”