Auburn took the series 2-1 in the showdown of Top 10 baseball powers as the Tigers bounced back after losing the series opener on Friday night. The Sunday victory kept alive Auburn's streak of winning each of its five SEC series this season. There are five more SEC series left to play. The Bulldogs took a 4-2 win on Friday and Auburn was an 8-5 winner on Saturday.
The victory moved the Tigers to 11-4 in the conference and 29-8 overall. It was also the 100th career victory for third-year head coach Steve Renfroe (100-55) as the Tigers moved to within a half game of LSU for first place in the SEC West and the overall SEC lead. The Bulldogs dropped to 10-4 in the SEC and 25-7-1.
Auburn hit the ball well in the early innings, but good MSU defense helped keep the Tigers off the scoreboard. Auburn trailed 1-0 as the Bulldogs picked up a run off of starter Colby Paxton on an infield single by Steve Gendron, a stolen base and a double by first baseman Matthew Brinson.
The MSU edge held up until the fourth inning when Auburn's number nine hitter, shortstop Jeroloman, drilled a two-run homer into the motorhomes next to the left field foul pole. His blast scored Bell.
The Tigers earned themselves plenty of breathing room in the next inning as Javon Moran led off with a single to right field and stole second base. Tug Hulett followed with a single to left, putting runners on the corners. MSU coach Ron Polk then decided to go to the bullpen, calling in lefty Brooks Dunn in place of starter Todd Nicholas. The MSU sophomore gave up six hits and walked four batters while allowing four earned runs.
A Dunn pitch hit Bobby Huddleston to load the bases. Scott Schade hit a fly ball deep to right field enabling Moran to tag and score easily from third base. After Dunn walked left-handed hitter Amonite, Polk gave him the hook and brought in submarine right-hander Ramsey Saunders. That set the stage for the big blow by Bell, the freshman catcher, who drilled his grand slam over the left field wall. That put the Tigers up 7-1.
The Bulldogs scored their second run in the sixth inning off of Paxton, who was pulled with one out in favor of freshman right-hander Chris Dennis, who got out of the jam by forcing shortstop Matthew Maniscalco to end the inning with a 6-4-3 double play. Earlier in the game, in a bases loaded situation, Maniscalco did the same thing vs. Paxton. Second baseman Thomas Berkery drove home the second run for the Bulldogs scoring DH Brent Lewis.
Renfroe went to the bullpen to start the bottom of the eight inning after Dennis did his job by allowing no runs and just one hit in one and two-thirds innings. Cory Dueitt got the call and got into quick trouble with a bloop single to center and an infield hit putting runners on the corners with one out. Another infield single, on a bad hop to third base by Joseph Hunter, cut the lead to 7-3 and brought Renfroe to the mound to bring in closer Steven Register to face the top of the order.
Register got out of the jam getting Maniscalco to pop out to shortstop and pinch-hitter Jeff Butts was the victim of a diving catch by right fielder Clete Thomas in right center field to end the inning. He then took care of business in the ninth to secure the victory to pick up his SEC-leading 12th save of the season.
Renfroe said the two homers, a solid outing from starter Paxton and good defensive play by the infield and outfield were keys to the well-played victory by his Tigers.
The Bulldogs out-hit the Tigers 14-10 as a crowd of 5,804 watched the action. Neither team had an error as Paxton improved his record to 4-1 while Nicholas fell to 3-1 for the Bulldogs. MSU straned 11 runners while Auburn left eight on base.
Bell was the only Auburn batter with more than one hit while Lewis and Gendron each had three hits for MSU.
"This is the best we‚ve played all year," Renfroe said. "We felt we‚d have to play well to come here and win. Once we got the two home runs our players made some big defensive plays to hold the lead. Colby Paxton had his best outing of the year and Chris Dennis had ice water in his veins."
Auburn will return to action on Tuesday night at Plainsman Park on 25-cent Hotdog Night vs. the UAB Blazers. The Arkansas Razorbacks will be in for a three-game SEC series starting at 6:30 p.m. CDT on Friday at Plainsman Park.