Trailing UAB 2-1 in the bottom of the eighth inning, Bell hit a two-run home run to deep center field to give the Auburn Tigers (30-8) the lead on the way to a 4-2 victory. Bell then closed out the game on the mound with a scoreless ninth inning in which he struck out three Blazer (21-14) hitters on just 17 pitches.
Struggling through the game after practicing beforehand to make up for time lost due to bad weather each of the past two weeks, the Tigers couldn't find any offense early in the contest off UAB starter Chris Thorup and reliever Griffin Zarbough, but that all changed in the eighth.
"I put an extra burden on them," Coach Steve Renfroe said. "We worked hard today. We practiced today before the game, we just didn't take BP (batting practice). We've missed two weeks. Every time we try we've had injuries or weather. We were really trying to prepare for this weekend so we pushed them hard before. There just wasn't much in the tank, but we played well. You have to credit UAB. They were a little down emotionally our guys, but UAB basically stuffed us."
With just one run and six hits to show for the first seven innings of play, the Tigers came to the plate in the bottom of the eighth hoping to make 3,409 fans go home happy after they ate 9,905 hot dogs on 25-cent hot dog night at Plainsman Park. With one out in the inning, Karl Amonite walked to bring Bell to the plate. Getting behind quickly 0-2 to Zarbough with sidearm right-hander Cody Cillo in the bullpen, Bell drove a fastball deep over the center field wall for a two-run home run, his sixth of the season. It was Bell's third home run in his last 15 at-bats. A far cry from his total of just two in the previous 106 at-bats leading up to last weekend's series against Mississippi State.
Josh Bell closes out the ninth in the Auburn victory.
Clete Thomas put an end to Zarbough's night with a single to right field, bringing Cillo into the game. With Kyle Bohm at the plate, Thomas stole second to put himself into scoring position. It didn't matter as Bohm fouled off pitch after pitch before earning a walk to bring Chuck Jeroloman to the plate. Cillo would get the best of Auburn's shortstop to put the pressure on Sean Gamble. After both runners advanced on a balk, Gamble put down a perfect bunt down the third base line to score Thomas from third with an important insurance run.
Bell came on in the ninth inning to shut down the Blazers, giving up just a two-out single in the process.
"Coach Renfroe has really helped me out a lot to try to stay inside the ball," Bell said. "Before then I was really pulling off of it. I just tried to stay with my hands inside the ball. Tonight was definitely a tough game. Both teams were tired from all their conference play. I know we were. It took a lot just to beat these guys tonight. They were a good team also. I'm just glad that we were able to pull that one out because that could have hurt us in the long run."
In addition to Bell's 3-4 night with three runs batted in, only Tug Hulett had multiple hits for the Tigers with his two doubles.
Pitchers Daniel Forrer (4 IP, 7 H, 2 ER), Andrew Skinner (2 IP, 1H, O ER), Josh Sullivan (1.1 IP, O H, O ER) and Lee Carter (0.2 IP, O H, O ER) set the table for Bell in the ninth. While the hitting was suspect, the pitching kept Auburn in the game until Bell's blow could lead them to the victory.
"Forrer was real good I thought," Renfroe said. "I thought Andrew Skinner threw the best he's thrown in a long time and I thought Sullivan was real good. You ask Lee Carter to do one thing and that's get double plays, and he came in and did it. Then, of course, Josh in the ninth was good, so we pitched well."
UAB got on the board first in Tuesday's game as Steve Martin hit a bloop single to right field to open the game and later scored on a sacrifice fly by right fielder Kyle Leon.
In the fourth inning freshman Drew Connell singled up the middle with one out in the inning and Seth Rollin followed with a single to left to put runners on first and second. One out later a walk to Josh Miljavac brought Mitch Jones to the plate. Forrer didn't fool Jones as he drilled a single into left field that Gamble came up with and threw to Scott Schade just in front of the third base bag. Catching and firing to Kyle Bohm at the plate, Schade's throw got Rolling and kept the Blazers to just one run. Leading 2-0, UAB had Auburn's number until that point.
The Tigers finally got on the board in the fourth inning thanks to a leadoff double. After Hulett had doubled twice in the first three innings only to be stranded, this time Amonite got the inning going with a long double to center field over the head of UAB's Sam Clark. Bell followed with a single into right field that scored Amonite from second to cut the lead to just 2-1. It appeared Auburn would do some serious damage when Thomas hit a drive deep to the left field corner. Running full speed into the wall and catching the ball, Jones saved the inning for UAB as Bohm ground into an inning ending double play to keep the score 2-1 heading to the fifth inning.
Auburn missed a golden opportunity to take the lead away from UAB in the fifth when Jeroloman singled to begin the inning and moved to second when Gamble hit a ground ball on a hit-and-run. That brought Javon Moran to the plate. Jumping on the first pitch, he hit a one-hopper to Connell at third base. Catching the ball, Connell looked back Jeroloman and then threw the ball away at first allowing Jeroloman to move to third and Moran to coast into second.
With runners on second and third, UAB went to the pen in favor of impressive lefty Zarbough. Getting ahead of Hulett 0-2, he caught the second baseman looking for the second out of the inning. Schade hit a ground ball to end the inning and the Auburn threat. That's the way the game remained until the eighth inning.
Before Auburn could rally, the Blazers looked like they were going to put the game away off Sullivan, but Carter saved the day. With one out and nobody on, both Daniel Hill and Connell reached base to bring Carter into the game. Known for getting opponents on ground balls, Carter caused Rollins to hit into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play and give the Tigers the momentum they needed to pull out the win in the eighth.
Auburn's road doesn't get any easier when they take on the 25th-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks this weekend in a three-game series at Plainsman Park. The Razorbacks come in as one of the hottest teams in the league with a record of 27-7 overall and 9-6 in conference play.