Tigers Roar Past Tide In Series Opener

Auburn moved to 8-2 in SEC play with a 10-2 victory over Alabama Friday night.

Auburn, Ala.--Tug Hulett, Bobby Huddleston and Scott Schade each contributed three hits to lead the sixth-ranked Auburn Tigers to a 10-2 baseball series opening win over rival Alabama Friday night at Plainsman Park.

The Tigers pounded 20th-ranked Alabama pitching for 14 hits while holding the Crimson Tide to just seven hits in front of 4,503 fans, the second-largest crowd in Auburn history for a home game.

Starter Eric Brandon pitched four innings, allowing five hits and two earned runs, but didn't go long enough to earn the victory. That went to reliever Chris Dennis (2-1), who pitched three scoreless innings, giving up just one hit and striking out three.

Alabama ace Taylor Tankersley (5-1) got the loss, allowing nine hits and seven runs in four and one third innings. The home team has now won nine games in a row in the series and Alabama's loss puts its losing streak at four games, the longest in the Jim Wells' era at Alabama.

"We hadn't beaten Alabama's number one in a long time," Auburn Coach Steve Renfroe said. "They've always had one and got out of some jams. That's why he's their number one guy and hadn't lost. To our credit we defended outstanding. That kept us in the game. Scott Schade was outstanding and Tug in the middle. I thought that was a key keeping us in the game there. Eric had enough to keep us in it. He just couldn't get his breaking ball tonight. Chris Dennis was real good and poised."

Something that has been a problem area for the Tigers in recent games struck again early as they failed to capitalize on two big scoring opportunities. In the first inning, Schade flew out to right field with two outs and the bases loaded to get Tankersley off the hook. In the second Clete Thomas singled to right field to open the inning, bringing Josh Bell to the plate. Hitting just .322 after opening the season on a tear, Bell hit a ground ball down the first base line that Zac Welch whiffed on to allow him to reach second and Thomas advanced to third.

Bobby Huddleston scores ahead of a Scott Schade double in the sixth inning.

The number nine hitter, Chuck Jeroloman, did what he does best by fighting off five pitches with two strikes, but he struck out on a high fastball. That brought the top of the order to the plate in the form of Sean Gamble. Off balance against the crafty left-hander, Gamble hit a slow roller right back to Tankersley for the second out of the inning. Javon Moran made the final out of the inning with a ground ball to third base. The scene would be repeated in the third inning as the Tigers again left two runners on. Seemingly living on the edge, Tankersley finally saw the beginning of the end in the fourth.

With one out in the fourth inning, Jeroloman drew a walk from Tankersley to bring Gamble to the plate. Having problems with his control, Tankersley walked Gamble to put runners on first and second with nobody out. That's when the Moran show would take place. Getting a pitch to hit on the outside part of the plate, he drove it to right field past Beau Hearod for a triple to score both Jeroloman and Gamble. Watching Tankersley closely on the first pitch to Hulett, he took off on the second windup from Tankersley and raced towards the plate. Beating the pitch and tag by catcher Charlie Lyons easily, Moran stole home to score Auburn's third run of the inning. The inning finished with the Tigers up 3-0 and Brandon cruising on the mound.

"They were throwing me outside the whole game and when he threw me in, I just fought it off and sliced it in the corner and I knew I had a triple then," Moran said. "Coach was like, ‘If you want to steal home you can steal home.' The first pitch I was just timing him and the second pitch I just took off. I was just hoping Tug didn't swing because once I got halfway and didn't see the ball I knew I was safe."

Alabama came back with some offense in the fifth. Designated hitter Al Hecklinski started Alabama's inning with a double down the left field line. Having trouble finding his breaking ball, Brandon got behind Nathan Meiners before he gave up a single to left field to put runners on first and second with nobody out. After both runners moved up on a wild pitch, Grant Redding drilled a double down the left field line to score both runners and cut Auburn's lead to just one.

A walk to Charlie Lyons put an end to Brandon's night and brought on freshman Chris Dennis. Dennis kept Alabama at bay. On his second pitch, he got Garner to line into a double play and Allen Rice flew out to end the inning. From that point forward it was all Auburn.

Schade got things going for the Tigers with an infield single in the fifth inning. After a Thomas fly out to center, Josh Bell singled to right field to give Auburn yet another scoring opportunity.

First Jeroloman singled through the right side to score Schade from second, putting Auburn back ahead by two. Then Gamble caught a hanging breaking ball from Tankersley and drove it deep over the right field wall for a three-run shot that put Auburn up 7-2. The lead would easily be enough for Dennis and reliever Cory Dueitt, who combined to allow just two hits and no runs in five innings while striking out five Alabama hitters.

Chris Dennis throws a pitch in Friday night's game.

Auburn got another run in the sixth with the combination of Huddleston and Schade providing the punch. Leading off the inning, Huddleston singled to left field to bring the hot Schade to the plate. Getting a fastball in his power zone, he drilled it deep into left center field to score Huddleston all the way from first.

"I felt pretty good," Schade said of his night. "I've been working on my approach, I've been striking out too much as we all know. I've really been working on my two-strike hitting. I was just trying to get a good pitch early in the count so I'm not falling behind two strikes every at-bat. I felt pretty good my last couple of at-bats there.

"Our crowd was great. Any time you're at your home park and a lot of people come up it's definitely an incentive. It gives you the home field advantage. They were the 10th player today. They were good."

The Tigers put the finishing touches on the victory with two runs in the bottom of the eighth inning. Hitting everything in sight, Hulett ripped a double into the left field corner to get the inning started on the right foot. Huddleston then followed suit with an opposite field double that scored Hulett from second to make it 9-2 Tigers.

Schade closed out one of his best days of the season in style with a triple over the head of center fielder Travis Garner to score Huddleston from second with Auburn's 10th run of the game. Dueitt gave up a hit in the ninth, but retired the Crimson Tide to preserve the victory in the important Friday night win.

Auburn will face Alabama at 3 p.m. Saturday in the second game of the weekend series. Auburn will start sophomore Arnold Hughey (4-1) while Alabama will counter with junior college transfer Seth Johnson (3-1, 1.35).

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