HOOVER, Ala. -- No. 9 seed Alabama (32-24) held off No. 8 seed Kentucky (32-25) to earn a 5-2 win in the first round of the 2016 SEC Baseball Tournament.
"I'm really proud of our guys, to play the way we did in a pressure-packed game like it was today," said Alabama head coach Mitch Gaspard. "The key today was really on the mound. Nick [Eicholtz] giving us a quality start, really settling us down."
After a hitless first inning for both teams, Alabama took an early 3-0 lead in the top of the second. Will Haynie and Cody Henry produced back-to-back singles, followed by Chance Vincent reaching base on an error. With the bases loaded, Daniel Cucjen drew a walk to bring Haynie across the plate for the Tide's first run. Hunter Webb's single brought two runners home, extending the Tide's lead to 3-0.
The Wildcats got on the board when Evan White homered to left field in the bottom of the fourth. The home run moved Kentucky into sole possession of the conference lead with 52 home runs on the season, breaking a tie with Texas A&M.
Alabama held onto the lead behind a strong effort from starting pitcher Nick Eicholtz (4-3). The right-hander allowed only two runs on three hits in 6.2 innings. Eicholtz also allowed only three hits by the Wildcats in the Tide's regular-season 2-1 win at Kentucky in April.
"I like to pitch at the knees, get a lot of ground balls, early contact," said Eicholtz. "I don't really focus on striking out that many guys. I try to get deep into the game. I tried to finish this one but got a little tired I guess."
Alabama had the bases loaded in the top of the seventh, but sophomore Zach Pop entered from the bullpen to get the Wildcats out of the jam.
With two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Riley Mahan doubled to left field to bring Kentucky within one run. Alabama's Matt Foster took to the mound and got the Tide out of the inning.
Alabama pulled away in the top of the final frame with a two-run home run by Haynie.
"He's clutch," Eicholtz said about Haynie. "This past month he's just been tearing the cover off the ball. We all believe in Haynie and he's just a really good athlete."
UP NEXT: Alabama moves on to the double-elimination portion of the tournament to face top-seeded Mississippi State Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. ET/ 4:30 p.m. CT on SEC Network.