"We continue to talk about the importance of somebody on the mound and certainly Derek Varnadore was the difference today," Auburn Coach John Pawlowski said. "His performance was outstanding."
Struggling last weekend in a loss to South Carolina, Varnadore was looking to turn things around against a Georgia team he grew up watching as a kid in Athens. He said for him it was a special day, but he was just focused on pitching down in the zone and getting ahead.
"That was fun," Varnadore said. "It helped a lot watching Jon Luke (Jacobs) pitch yesterday. I literally just tried to pitch like he did last night. We pounded the outside zone and just tried to stay out there and not give them anything up. I was able to do it. I was more worried about coming off last week, I wanted to come in today throwing strikes. I was glad I was able to."
At the plate Dan Gamache, Casey McElroy, Tony Caldwell and Wes Gilmer all had two hits, totaling all eight hits on the day for the Tigers. Caldwell scored a run and drove in an insurance run on a great at-bat in the bottom of the eighth inning to seal the win for the Tigers. He said the story of the game was Varnadore though.
"He was powerful today," Caldwell said of Varnadore. "He was throwing his fastball with authority. He was spotting it up. They didn't make the adjustments and he just stayed with a good plan and his strengths…you have to tip your cap to a guy that goes nine innings and throws a five-hit shutout."
Georgia (24-23, 13-10) had the first chance to get on the scoreboard Saturday as Zach Cone and Brett DeLoach greeted Varnadore with back-to-back singles to start the second inning. Showing he came to play Auburn's junior came back to strike out the next three hitters all looking to give the Tigers some momentum.
In the third Auburn made it pay off against Georgia starter Michael Palazzone with a pair of runs. McElroy singled to bring Friday's hero Caldwell to the plate. Getting a pitch to drive the senior lined it off the wall in left field for a double. With runners on second and third and nobody out Wes Gilmer reached on an infield single that scored McElroy from third to make it 1-0. A Kevin Patterson fly ball to left field then scored Caldwell to give Varnadore a two-run lead to work with.
McElroy scores Auburn's first run of the game on Saturday.
Auburn had a great opportunity to extend the lead in the fifth after Justin Hargett struck out to open the inning but wound up all the way on second base when Georgia catcher Joey Delmonico couldn't find the ball. Attempting to bunt the runner to third, Justin Fradejas pushed one to the left side that Palazzone fielded and bobbled.
With the throw late to first Fradejas crossed the bag, but was called out by first base umpire A.J. Lostaglio. After Pawlowski gave him a piece of his mind it was Gamache's turn to try to drive home the runner. Unfortunately Gamache hit a line drive right at the third base bag that Curt Powell caught on a dive. He tagged the bag just ahead of Hargett to complete the double play and end the Auburn threat.
Continuing his hot weekend at the plate, DeLoach lined one off the monster in left field to open the seventh inning, but Cullen Wacker played the carom perfectly to hold him to a single. Following a fly ball out to left field, pinch hitter Kevin Ruiz hit a scorcher that Hargett knocked down on a dive at second base. He finished off the play with a throw to first for the second out. Varnadore then got Powell to fly out to Fradejas to end the inning.
The Tigers added a run in the eighth thanks to some great fundamental "small ball". Leading off Cullen Wacker walked and was replaced by pinch runner Bobby Andrews. Showing his speed Andrews stole second and moved to third on a McElroy ground ball to bring Caldwell to the plate.
In one of the season's best at-bats, Caldwell saw 12 pitches from reliever Chase Hawkins and fouled off seven of them before lacing a single up the middle. Andrews scored to make it 3-0 Auburn.
Varnadore finished things off in the ninth to give the Tigers the series win against the Bulldogs. They will be going for the sweep on Sunday with either Zach Blatt or Slade Smith expected to get the start for the 1 p.m. first pitch.