Opening Night A Huge Success For Tigers

Auburn raced past Arkansas State 12-5 Friday night in front of a sellout crowd at Plainsman Park.

Auburn, Ala.--Junior Creede Simpson had three hits and scored four runs while fellow junior Casey McElroy added three hits and a pair of runs as the #23 Auburn Tigers downed Arkansas State 12-5 before a sellout crowd of 4,096 on opening day at Plainsman Park. On the mound sophomore Slade Smith allowed four runs on six hits in five and two/thirds innings to get the win while junior college transfer Ethan Wallen earned the save, giving up just a run on three hits in three and one/third innings.

"I was so excited when we came out for pregame," Auburn coach John Pawlowski said. "I told the guys to look in the stands because the stadium was packed and there were people in the parking deck. That's pretty exciting. It just makes the guys want to play so hard. I'm very thankful that our fans came out.

"The ballgame was one of those games where I never felt like we had enough," he added. "We always had to fight back. Slade Smith did a great job. I think we had 16 or 17 ground ball outs. Creede Simpson had a big day for us and Casey McElroy. They both did a good job for us."

The story of the night was the Auburn offense as the Tigers pounded out 13 hits with just three for extra bases and no home runs. Playing with new bats this season that are expected to greatly diminish power numbers in the college game, Pawlowski said it will make for a different look as fans found out on Friday night.

"I think that's what it's going to be," Pawlowski said. "We'll take the home runs obviously. We did some good things with the short game. We put a little pressure on them. We bunted a couple of times and slashed a little bit. We have to create runs. I think that's what our team identity is going to be."

The personification of that on Friday was Simpson. Playing right field the Auburn native had three singles, a walk, and scored four times as he came through time after time for the Tigers. He said it was just a special night to play in front of such a huge crown on opening day.

"I was seeing the ball well and so were some of the other guys," Simpson said. "We were able to put some good swings on the ball and get some runs. Our pitching did a great job for us. They kept us in the game. We were able to battle and find a way to win.

"It was unreal," he said of the crowd. "I want to thank every fan that came out. We set a new record. We love playing for them. We enjoyed it."

Managing just a pair of hits in the first two innings despite hitting several balls hard, Auburn finally got on the board in the bottom of the third inning. After a double in the first inning, third baseman Casey McElroy walked with one out to get the inning started for the Tigers. Struggling to find the strike zone, ASU starter Andy Ferguson walked catcher Tony Caldwell to bring first baseman Kevin Patterson to the plate with a chance to do some damage.

Swinging at the first pitch, Patterson hit a towering pop up to third for the second out of the inning. Unfazed Auburn got back to work as Simpson also walked to bring Dan Gamache to the plate. In the designated hitter role, the junior never took the bat off his shoulder as he walked to score McElroy with the game's first run. Left fielder Justin Bryant was next and he was hit by a pitch to score Caldwell to make it 2-0.

Struggling in his first plate appearance, Alvord got his first chance with runners in scoring position and he delivered in style. Getting a pitch to pull, the right-hander got a ground ball through the left side for a single. The hit scored two and gave Auburn a 4-0 advantage heading to the fourth.

Slade Smith improved to 5-0 in his career at Auburn with the win.

The Red Wolves would get a run back in the fourth but a stellar defensive play kept it from being more. With one out singles by Todd Baumgartner and Jordan Castaldo put runners on first and third for Daniel Short. His groundout to McElroy scored Baumgartner and put Castaldo in scoring position with two outs for Tyler Smith. Laboring some on the mound, Smith left a pitch up over the plate and his ASU's Smith lined it to center field. Coming up throwing, the Tigers' Justin Fradejas gunned down the runner at the plate for the final out.

Auburn answered back in the bottom of the fourth as back to back singles by McElroy and Caldwell and a wild pitch set the table for Patterson as his fly ball to center gave the Tigers a four-run lead. Arkansas State got another single run in the fifth but Smith recovered to keep the damage minimal as he got a key groundout to Alvord to end the inning with a runner on second.

An error led to another Auburn run in the fifth to make it 6-2, once again giving Smith a four-run cushion to work with as he went back out in the sixth. It wouldn't stay that way though as he allowed a one-out single and a two-out walk before giving way to reliever Zach Blatt. The Opelika native didn't have it on this night as he gave up a pair of singles to score both runners and cut the Auburn lead down to just two. That brought on Wallen out of the bullpen to face Hecht with runners on first and third and still two outs. The juco transfer came through with a strikeout to hold the lead at 6-4 going to the bottom of the sixth.

Arkansas State wasn't done on offense as a leadoff single by Faulkner got things started again for the Red Wolves. Following a sac bunt, Baumgartner singled to center field to score the speedy Faulker to make it 6-5 Auburn. Caldwell misplayed the throw from Fradejas in center field allowing the runner to advance to second but that would be it Alvord's backhand stop and throw to first retired Daniel Short to end the inning.

Getting the start at shortstop, Alvord had a big day defensively and also added two RBI.

With the lead trimmed to just one Auburn needed some offense as things went to the bottom of the seventh. Already with two hits, Simpson led off the frame with his third of the night to give the Tigers some life. That brought Gamache to the plate in a bunt situation, only the junior didn't bunt. He lined a single to left to bring Bryant up. It was the first sign of life for the Tigers against reliever John Koch.

One of Auburn's most clutch performers last season, Bryant again came through with a perfect bunt to third base for a hit. Rushing the throw Johnson sailed it into right field for the throwing error to allow both runners to score. That pushed the Tigers' lead back to 8-5 with still nobody out. Back to back doubles by Justin Hargett and Fradejas pushed the lead to five before the damage was done for Auburn.

The Tigers added a pair of runs in the bottom of the eighth inning and Wallen finished off the Red Wolves in the ninth for the 12-5 victory.

In addition to the big nights from Simpson and McElroy, Gamache added a pair of hits for the Tigers and also scored two runs. Johnson led Arkansas State with three hits as they totaled 11 for the game.

Auburn will send junior lefty Cory Luckie to the mound against #13 Virginia on Saturday at 1 p.m. The Cavaliers defeated UAB 6-4 on Friday and will counter with senior Tyler Wilson. Pawlowski said it will be a very good early season test for his team.

"They have been to the College World Series and you look at them play today, they're a solid club," Pawlowski said. "They are going to be at the top of the ACC. It's a great challenge for us. That's what being at Auburn is all about. Tomorrow we certainly have to be ready to play because it will be a great challenge."

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