Making his first career start at Auburn, Varnadore had a great outing for the Tigers. Learning of his opportunity on Saturday, the Athens (Ga.) native came through with a terrific performance. Auburn coach John Pawlowski said the Tigers came in with a plan on the mound and the big junior delivered.
"One thing we talked about is UAB can really run," Pawlowski said. "It was important that we kept their leadoff guy off base. He pitched seven strong innings and six of those innings he got the leadoff guy out. That was really important against a quality team."
Leading the nation in home runs last season, Auburn finished off a three-game series without a homer as a team but still managed a pair of wins. Hargett was responsible for much of the offense on Sunday as he moved into the leadoff spot and came up big for the Tigers with two of the team‘s six hits. He said for him it's just a matter of doing what the team needs.
"I just tried to go to the plate today and simplify things and get on base," Hargett said. "That's what we need right now as a team is getting on base and moving guys over. To me the leadoff and nine hole isn't much different. I know that Justin Fradejas is an unbelievable leadoff hitter and he'll be back there pretty soon. Until then I'm going to do my job and simplify things and try to get on base."
Justin Hargett was 5-9 for the weekend with five RBI and a pair of runs scored.
UAB starter Michael Busby cruised through the first two innings before Auburn finally got something going in the fourth thanks to a mistake. Leading things off, designated hitter Justin Bryant was hit by a pitch to give the Tigers their first base runner. Following a fly ball out, Bryant stole second with Fradejas at the plate and the center fielder later worked a walk to put runners on first and second for Hargett. Getting a pitch to pull, the senior ripped it inside the bag at first base for a double. The hit scored both runners and gave Auburn the early 2-0 lead.
Hargett was again at the center of Auburn's offense in the fifth as his one out walk put the Tigers in business. His first time up shortstop Casey McElroy had solid contact on a fly ball to right field and this time he made it pay off with a liner down the right field line. The double easily scored Hargett for the three-run Auburn advantage.
Another walk, this one to Creede Simpson, put runners on first and second but the Tigers wouldn't be able to take advantage. Trying to force the issue Auburn sent the runners but UAB anticipated the move and pitched out. McElroy was thrown out easily at third and the Tigers' threat was foiled.
Struggling the first two days, the middle of the Auburn order finally got going in the bottom of the sixth against Busby. Getting a pitch to drive, catcher Tony Caldwell narrowly missed the Tigers' first home run of the season with a double off the monster in left field. Getting behind 0-2, first baseman Kevin Patterson followed with a double of his own off the left field wall to score Caldwell for a 4-0 Auburn lead.
Reliever Blake Huddleston came on for the Blazers to face Bryant in a definite bunt situation. Working the count, the senior got a walk to put runners on first and second for pinch hitter Cullen Wacker. Trying to bunt, Wacker fouled a pair of pitches off before striking out. Up next Fradejas struck out looking before a walk to Hargett brought McElroy to the plate with the bases loaded. Hitting a pitch on the nose, McElroy lined out to left fielder Arrowood to end a golden opportunity for the Tigers.
After six strong innings, allowing just two hits, Varnadore appeared to tire to start the seventh as Patrick Palmeiro hit a liner into the right-center field gap that Simpson ran down for the first out of the inning. Ryan Ussery followed though with a single to right to bring Andrew Manning to the plate. Getting a fly ball to new left fielder Jay Gonzalez for out number two, Varnadore faced catcher Jacob German with a chance to get out of the inning. He did just that with a pop up to Simpson in right field.
On for Varnadore to start the eighth inning, reliever Sean Ray allowed a pair of base runners before Bryant came on with two outs and got a groundout to second base to end the Blazer threat. The reliever finished things off with a scoreless ninth to earn his first career save.
It was a big moment for Bryant and the Tigers as he could be the man in the closer role this season. Last year in his only appearance he gave up four runs without recording an out against Arizona State. Getting the chance to begin to amend his pitching totals was something he said he's been looking forward to.
"It has been an inside, locker room joke for quite a while," Bryant said of his career 99 ERA. " I'm glad to get that behind me. I was tired of hearing about it really. I was excited to get a chance to pitch all weekend. I was chomping at the bit to get coach to let me get in the bullpen for while. He finally said something about it so I was really excited to get that first inning under my belt with no runs scored."
Auburn will face Jacksonville State at 3 p.m. on Tuesday at Plainsman Park in the season opener for the Gamecocks before Radford comes to town for a three-game series this weekend. Game times for the weekend are 3 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday.