After losing a late lead and dropping an extra inning affair on Friday, coach John Pawlowski said his team made the plays it needed to in order to preserve the win this time around.
"I think it's very good for the mindset of our team knowing we can win those one run ballgames," Pawlowski said. "That's going to help us down the road."
Playing right field instead of catching, senior Tony Caldwell hit his and Auburn's second home run of the season in the first inning and finished with two of the team's nine hits for the game. Reliever Andrew Morris earned the win in relief of starter Cory Luckie, allowing two hits and no runs in one and one/third innings.
Solid in his second start of the season, Luckie allowed two runs on nine hits in five and two/thirds innings. He struck out three and walked just one. Earning the save, Ray allowed just one hit in two innings and struck out three. He said it was a big game from a confidence standpoint for Auburn's pitching staff.
"It's definitely a boost for our whole staff," Ray said. "That's the way the games are going to be. They're going to be close and low scoring. I thought even last night we played 13 innings and only scored six. There were a bunch of hits but as you can see they are all singles. Last year we were scared of the deep ball, every team was. This year if you get a single go after the guy and put it in play and let your defense work."
Auburn wasted little time jumping on top in Saturday's game as a two-out single by Casey McElroy brought Caldwell to the plate against Radford starter Mark Peterson. Getting a pitch to drive on a 1-0 count, Caldwell homered to stake Auburn and Luckie to the early 2-0 advantage.
"I just feel like I'm playing the wind right with these new bats," Caldwell said of his home run. "I think it was a very big inning for us. Casey McElroy had the two-out hit and that's huge right there. Hitting is contagious. You can look at last year, we were rolling. I feel like Casey gave me the power and I hit the ball out for him and the team."
That's how things would stand until the fourth inning when the Highlanders finally got on the board. With one out Matt Mack reached on an infield single and Alex Guerra followed with a single to center to put the pressure on Luckie. Designated hitter Jake Taylor made it three in a row with a double to cut Auburn's lead in half. A walk then put runners on first and third with still just one out but Luckie got fortunate as Daniel Wright lined into a double play to end the threat with Auburn up 2-1.
Mack again was at the center of things in the sixth as he singled to start the inning and was standing at third base with two outs and Matt Hillsinger at the plate. Knocking down a liner at the mound, Luckie scrambled to the ball and threw to first base and appeared to beat the runner but he was called safe. The run scored to tie things at two and bring an end to Luckie's day on the mound. Morris came in and loaded the bases before getting a fly ball out to end the inning.
Tied at two in the bottom of the seventh, Auburn finally put something together on offense as first baseman Kevin Patterson ripped a leadoff double to right field. Pinch runner Jay Gonzalez then moved to third base as pinch hitter Bobby Andrews' bunt single put runners on first and third with nobody out.
Senior Wes Gilmer then came through for the Tigers in the clutch as his ground ball to the right side scored Gonzalez to put Auburn up 3-2 and move Andrews to second. Unfortunately Auburn ran itself out of the inning for the second time in the game as a hit and run turned into a double play as shortstop Zach Alvord's ground ball to third base was right into the runner. A tag and throw later and the inning was done with Auburn up by a run.
With Ray coming on to replace Morris in the eighth the Tigers cruised the rest of the way as the crafty lefty sat down Radford to preserve the victory and even the series.
Auburn will look for the series win on Sunday as the Tigers send junior college transfer Derek Varnadore to the mound. The first pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m. at Plainsman Park.