Senior Levale Speigner (7-0) got the win in the game, pitching three perfect innings of relief when Auburn needed it the most. Sophomore Steven Register earned the save, his 10th of the year, while local pitching star Allen Ponder (2-3) took the loss by allowing two hits and two runs without recording an out in the seventh in his return home.
At the plate leading hitter Tug Hulett continued his tear with a 3-4 day with two runs batted in and one run scored. Javon Moran had a big day as well with two hits and three runs scored. Scott Schade and Kyle Bohm both added two hits for the Tigers as they totaled 12 off Alabama pitching.
Even though the offense came through with the big inning, this win was mainly due to the relief pitching and attitude of Speigner. Entering the game with Auburn down three in the top of the sixth inning and a runner on first base, the Thomasville, Ga., native got the Crimson Tide out one, two, three and sprinted off the field. That put a charge into his club that eventually paid off one inning later.
"Levale changed the game for us," Auburn Coach Steve Renfroe said. "You're looking out there and the emotion of the game had turned. They had the momentum, we were on our heels and it looked like everything was lethargic. The crowd was taken out of it with the home runs. Cory (Cory Dueitt) was not sharp. We knew Levale, he's a senior, he's tough, he's been there and he's emotional. I thought his attitude coming off the mound fired our guys up. All of the sudden they got the quickness about their step again. I thought he turned the game around with his aggressiveness, his pitching and his attitude. I think he was the key."
Moved to the bullpen for his senior season, Speigner has responded in clutch situations for the Tigers. With seven wins this season, a big number for a reliever, Speigner has proven to be big when the game is on the line. Sunday was a big as it gets.
"That's huge," Speigner said. "We struggled early and their guy was pitching well and hitting his spots and throwing against us well. We just battled. The seventh inning was huge for us. We got a couple of zeroes up on the board and started playing ‘D'. It was all downhill for us after that and we finished it off and that was huge.
"I threw well at Georgia, but I just didn't finish it on Sunday. You really have to keep the emotion out of the game when you're on the mound and it was hard to do because the crowd was starting to get loud. It's a battle within yourself. I was hitting my spots well today and it worked out for me."
Trailing 6-3 heading to the bottom of the seventh, the Tigers were in need of something big if they hoped to salvage a series win over rival Alabama. What they got was an offensive explosion. Leading off the inning, Sean Gamble singled through the right side to bring Moran to the plate. Hitting the ball where it was pitched, he singled through the left side to put runners on first and second with nobody out. That signaled the end of starter Brent Carter's day and brought on Allen Ponder. A native of Opelika and graduate of nearby Lee-Scott Academy, Ponder was the subject of much discussion when he signed with Alabama instead of Auburn.
Center fielder Javon Moran scored three runs in Sunday's game. He now has 15 runs scored in 12 SEC games.
Guiding the ball up the middle, Tug Hulett greeted Ponder with a single to center field to score Gamble and cut Alabama's lead to 6-4 and bring Bobby Huddleston to the plate. Waiting on a breaking ball, Huddleston lined a double down the left field line to score both Moran and Hulett to tie the game and bring the crowd to its feet. Just that quickly Ponder was out, replaced by closer Brian Reed.
Put in the game for defensive purposes, Bohm showed his offensive prowess with a single to right field that put runners on the corners with still nobody out. Following a Schade strikeout, Clete Thomas hit a rocket to Alabama shortstop Adam Pavkovich. Catching the ball to his right, he wheeled and threw to Allen Rice at second for the force and Rice gunned to first base, but it wouldn't be enough as the speedy Thomas beat the throw to allow Huddleston to score with the eventual game-winning run.
"He hung a 3-2 slider and I just pulled it down the line," Huddleston said of his game tying double off Ponder. "I'm glad it bounced around and let Tug score. Kyle Bohm them came up with the big hit and Clete hustled to stay out of the double play to give us the go-ahead run.
"We're unfazed by any deficit," Huddleston added. "It's phenomenal to see these guys. Alabama comes up with four runs. I can't tell you how many home runs they hit, and nobody really thinks anything about it. We just said, ‘We're going to get them,' and nobody really thought anything about it. It was great. Granted it was Alabama, but to win the series was huge. Alabama is Alabama and it's the Auburn-Alabama rivalry, but anytime you win a series it's huge. As long as we won that's all that matters."
Speigner shut down Alabama in order in the eighth inning and turned the ball over to Register in the ninth. Giving up just a single, he got the last out on a ground ball to Jeroloman as shortstop. Flipping the ball to Hulett for the final out, Jeroloman began a celebration only to have some fireworks going on behind him. Angered by something, Hearod started yelling in the direction of Jeroloman and Hulett and the two teams had to cool down before shaking hands at midfield.
"They told me to get ready and if we got the lead it was mine," Register said. "I wanted the ball. I wanted to do what we did. If we have the lead I want the ball every time."
Early on Auburn appeared to have the game under control with Colby Paxton getting out of the early innings without his best stuff. He was staked to a two-run lead as the Tigers scored runs in each of the first two innings. In the first inning Gamble walked on four pitches to bring Moran to the plate. Reaching on a 6-4 fielder's choice, Moran advanced to third on a Hulett single to center field on a perfectly executed hit-and-run. Lifting a fly ball to right field deep to the warning track, Huddleston scored Moran with the game's first run.
Errors would allow the Tigers to score in the second. Leading off the inning, Schade doubled to right-center field to bring Thomas up with a chance to drive him home. Driving a fly ball deep the center, Thomas looked like he would at least get Schade to third with a sacrifice fly. That wouldn't be necessary as Brandon Avalos dropped the ball, allowing Thomas to reach second and Schade advance to third. A sacrifice fly by Chuck Jeroloman in shallow center field had the makings of a close play at the plate, but Avalos again dropped the ball taking it from his glove. Schade scored easily to make it 2-0 Tigers going to the third. It didn't take long for that to change.
Travis Garner led off the inning with a sharp single to left field off Paxton and one out later, powerful Hearod came to the plate. Leading the league with 12 home runs, he added to his total with a long opposite field blast to tie the game.
Auburn answered back in the third, again thanks to the team of Moran and Hulett. Driving a 1-0 pitch deep into center field, Moran tripled to lead off the inning and bring Hulett to the plate. Doing what he's done all season, Hulett lined a single into left field to score Moran. Moved from center to left, Avalos threw the ball away into the infield to send Hulett flying for second base. The ball was thrown away at second and Hulett wound up on third with nobody out. Unfortunately for Auburn, the Tigers would leave him stranded in what would look like an important blunder late in the game.
That's because Alabama had its own offensive explosion in the fifth inning off Paxton and Dueitt. Leading off the inning, Bobby Burns hit a solo home run over the left field wall to tie the game at three and bring Garner to the plate. Not waiting around, he drilled a single to left field on the first pitch to bring Rice to the plate. Ahead in the count 1-0, Rice bombed a shot over the K-Corner in right field to put Alabama up 5-2 and bring Paxton's day to an end.
Dueitt stepped to the mound and it was quickly apparent he didn't have his usual breaking ball. After getting a fly ball for the first out, he gave up two hits and a hit batter to allow Alabama's sixth and final run of the game to score. After that it was Speigner's performance that ignited the Auburn win, keeping the Tigers within one half-game of SEC Western Division leaders Mississippi State and LSU.
The standings following Sunday's action have Mississippi State (9-2) and LSU (9-2-1) tied for the division lead with Auburn (9-3), Arkansas (7-5), Ole Miss (7-5) and Alabama (6-6) all within striking distance still short of halfway into the SEC schedule.