"It starts with the guy on the mound," coach John Pawlowski said. "What can you say about Zach Blatt? It was just an outstanding effort. He got us deep into the game. He made some big pitches. We're down 3-1, but our guys kept working and ended up finding a way to win today."
The story of the night for Auburn was the pitching of junior Blatt (2-2). Making his first career start after pitching in relief his entire career, the Opelika native allowed four runs on five hits in six and one/third innings to earn the win. Relievers Dillon Ortman and Ethan Wallen held onto the lead on the way to the win. Jumping into the Friday night role with both feet, Blatt said once he got settled in things went well for him.
"The first couple of innings I did not feel good," Blatt said. "I could not adjust to the mound. I was having a hard time locating my fastball. In the third inning my arm slot got a little lower and all of the sudden things started clicking. We got some hits and that big six-run inning. I got things going and started pitching with a little more confidence and let the ball work and not trying to strike everybody out."
Offensively Auburn managed just seven hits, but handed LSU starter Kurt McCune just his second loss of the year as he allowed five runs on four hits in just five innings. Seven different players had a hit for Auburn on the night as they did just enough offensively to get the job done.
"He has done a great job," Pawlowski said of McCune. "You look at his numbers and they are outstanding. We just had to find a way to get something going. We created a little momentum and got a walk or two there. We came up with some big hits. I thought some guys stepped up in clutch situations. You don't have many opportunities against good teams and good pitchers. When you do you certainly have to take advantage of it."
LSU (22-13, 3-10) took the early lead on Friday night thanks to some help from a shaky Auburn defense. Leading off the second Kirk Cunningham singled to right field and advanced to second on an error by Justin Fradejas. Following a fly ball that moved the runner to third, Jacoby Jones walked to put runners on the corners.
With a ball in the dirt Jones took off for second, but the throw from catcher Tony Caldwell was off the mark. The error allowed Jones to move to third and Cunningham to score for the 1-0 LSU lead. Blatt recovered to strike out the final two hitters to keep the deficit at one.
In the third Auburn answered back as a one-out walk to Justin Hargett and a single by Bobby Andrews put runners on the corners for Fradejas. Working the count full, the senior lifted a fly ball just deep enough to score Hargett and tie the game.
LSU took the lead back in the bottom of the fourth as Cunningham was again at the center of things. His single and Blatt hitting Mason Katz with a pitch quickly put the pitcher in a hole. Jones followed with a single to right field, but was thrown out by Fradejas at second. Cunningham scored on the play however and Katz moved to third. A sacrifice fly then scored the second run of the inning for the home team as LSU led 3-1 heading to the fifth inning.
That's how things would stay until the sixth when Auburn finally got its offense untracked. Continuing his up and down night, Fradejas doubled to open the inning and back-to-back walks to Casey McElroy and Dan Gamache loaded the bases for Caldwell. Getting a pitch to drive, the senior lined it to left field for a double. The hit scored two and tied the game at three, but Auburn was just getting started.
With Kevin Berry coming on in relief of McCune the good fortune continued for Auburn as Wes Gilmer was hit by a pitch to load the bases once again and a walk to Kevin Patterson broke the tie to put Auburn up 4-3. Pinch hitter Cullen Wacker followed with a two-run single for a three-run advantage. Freshman Bobby Andrews finished off the scoring later in the inning with a sacrifice bunt.
Now in front 7-3 Blatt pitched a scoreless sixth, but ran into more trouble in the seventh. Jones led off the inning with a single and following a strikeout Blatt walked Ty Ross to bring his night to a close. Coming on in relief, Ortman gave up a single to leadoff man Raph Rhymes to load the bases with only one out.
Running the count to 3-2, Ortman struck out Tyler Hanover looking to bring LSU's top hitter Mikie Mahtook to the plate. Fouling off a pair of full count pitches from the freshman, Mahtook walked to score a run and cut Auburn's lead down to three. Facing veteran Austin Nola, Ortman fell behind 3-0 before forcing the third consecutive full count before walking home his second run of the inning. He recovered to get Cunningham on a fielder's choice, but going to the eighth inning Auburn's lead was down to just 7-5.
Pawlowski's club added to its lead in the ninth as a one-out McElroy double got things going for Auburn. With two outs Caldwell walked to bring Gilmer to the plate and the senior delivered with a single to score McElroy and put Auburn back in front 8-5.
With a three-run lead and just three outs to get Auburn fell apart in the ninth as Ortman hit the leadoff man and a Hargett error left followed to put runners on first and third with nobody out. A wild pitch by Ortman scored a run to make it 8-6 before a fly ball to center field for the first out stopped the bleeding momentarily.
That was all for Ortman as Wallen came in to face Mahtook and he quickly singled to center field to score Rhymes and cut Auburn's lead down to one. Wallen recovered to strike out Nola on three pitches for out number two to bring Cunningham to the plate. Falling behind 3-0 Wallen got the batter to line to Fradejas in right field. His diving grab closed out a thrilling win for Auburn Alex Box Stadium.