Tigers Ease Past Pesky Hornets

Auburn beat Alabama State 7-5 Wednesday night to improve to 26-23 on the season.

Auburn, Ala.--Kevin Patterson had four hits as the Auburn Tigers pounded out 14 hits on the night, but still had to hold off a scrappy Alabama State team 7-5 Wednesday night at Plainsman Park. Auburn (26-23) left 16 runners on base on a night when the Tigers desperately needed a win after tough losses to Georgia and Samford in consecutive games, but Coach John Pawlowski said they did just enough to get the job done.

"What a game," Pawlowski said. "We expected nothing different than a great challenge tonight. It certainly was. We were very fortunate tonight.

"We had some opportunities and one big hit here or there changes the whole complexion of the game," he added. "Fortunately we found a couple of ways to score some runs. I thought Andrew (Morris) and Zach Blatt both pitched us out of some trouble to get the win tonight.

It was another up and down performance for Auburn starter Andrew Morris as he struck out a career high and pitched six and two/thirds innings, but he allowed four runs on five hits and walked four as well. The win improved his record to 2-3 on the season. Reliever Zach Blatt finished things off, going the final two and one/third innings and allowing just a run on three hits.

At the plate Patterson was the hitting star for the Tigers as he finished 4-5, but all he could remember and wanted to make up for was leaving the bases loaded in the first inning. Even with Justin Fradejas, Dan Gamache, Tony Caldwell and Cullen Wacker all adding two hits, it was still a struggle for Auburn to get the runs home.

"Getting a win is huge after last night and especially after Sunday," Patterson said. "We were kind of down. It was too close for comfort and give them credit because they played hard. Getting that win was huge.

"I just tried to stay short with the ball," he added on his night. "I wound up with four hits which is always good, but getting the win is more important. I'm still ticked at myself for leaving the bases loaded in the first inning, but we got the win at the end of the day."

Auburn started the scoring in the second inning against the Hornets. After loading the bases in the first and not scoring against knuckleballer Trent Popp, the Tigers pushed across three in the second. Wacker led off with an infield single and a walk to Justin Hargett put runners on first and second for freshman catcher Blake Austin. His sacrifice bunt moved both into scoring position with just one out for the top of the Auburn order.

Continuing his strong week Fradejas lifted a fly ball deep enough to score Wacker for the game's first run. That brought Gamache to the plate and the Rhode Island native didn't mess around. Getting a fastball over the plate he drove it over the center field wall for his fifth home run of the season. That gave Morris a 3-0 lead to work with.

Striking out five of the first six hitters he faced the Prattville native pitched a scoreless third and Auburn came back to add another run in the bottom of the inning as Patterson doubled to left to lead things off and later scored on a Wacker single.

Alabama State got one back in the top of the fourth, but Auburn responded in the bottom of the inning as consecutive two-out singles by Caldwell, Patterson and Creede Simpson made it 5-1 Auburn.

After the Hornets got a run back in the top of the sixth the Tigers loaded the bases again in the bottom of the inning, but pinch hitter Wes Gilmer struck out to end the threat with the Tigers leading just 5-2. Through six innings Auburn had left 13 runners on base after totaling 12 hits, five walks and a hit batter.

Morris ran into trouble in the top of the seventh as a one-out walk to number nine hitter Ryan Epperson gave the Montgomery team some life. With two outs and Epperson on second following a stolen base, Darrion Pedro reached on an infield single to put runners on the corners with two outs.

That would be all for Morris as Blatt came on in relief. A stolen base moved Pedro to second and that's all Ron James Jr. needed as his flare to right field fell in for a single. The hit scored both runners and made it a 5-4 game going to the bottom of the seventh.

Once again Auburn got the offense going as a two-out walk to Casey McElroy sparked a mini-rally for the Tigers. Caldwell followed with a single to bring the red hot Patterson to the plate. Clinging to a one-run lead, Patterson slammed a line drive off pitcher Justin Robinson that bounced behind the mound for an infield single. McElroy scored on the play to give Blatt a two-run cushion to work with.

Alabama State would not go away though as Lloyd Kelly singled to open the eighth. Pinch runner Josue Quinones then stole second to move into scoring position for Jourdan Mott. The designated hitter came through with a single to left field that Wacker misplayed for an error. The runner scored to cut the lead back to just one, but the Hornets weren't done as they got runners on first and third with two outs before Blatt got out of the jam barely holding onto the lead.

In the bottom half of the inning Wacker was hit by a pitch and bunted over to second by Hargett. Now in the game at catcher, Caleb Bowen hit a pop up just in front of the plate that was whiffed on by the Hornets. The error put runners on first and second for Fradejas and his ground ball moved the runners into scoring position where Wacker scored on a wild pitch from catcher turned pitcher Kyle Granger. Back in front by two at 7-5 Blatt went back out in the ninth and slammed the door shut for his third save of the season.

Auburn returns to action this weekend as the Tigers take on Alabama in a three-game series at Plainsman Park. Game times are scheduled for 6 p.m. on Friday, 3 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday.

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