With the sweep Auburn improves to 28-23 overall and 13-13 in SEC play. The Tigers are now tied with Arkansas for the lead in the Western Division with Mississippi State one-half game back at 13-14 following a loss to Ole Miss Saturday night.
Winning the first game on Saturday 7-5 after trailing twice, Auburn repeated that in game two as Alabama led 4-3 in the seventh inning before the Tigers scored five times to pull in front. It wasn't easy as Alabama got within a run and had a pair of runners on base in the ninth before Ortman got a double play to end the game. Auburn Coach John Pawlowski said his team just found a way to win on Saturday.
"I'm just really proud of our team today and the way they competed," Pawlowski said. "I thought that was one of the most important things we did today is that we competed for 18 innings. In the first game we were down 2-0 and Casey McElroy has a home run. In this game we were down by one run and our team responded again. It was a lot of positive things today for the Tigers.
Perhaps the biggest positive for Auburn was the pitching of Ortman. After the recent struggles in the bullpen he came out strong on Saturday as he got the win in the first game and saved the second with his third inning of work on the afternoon. Pawlowski said it wasn't easy for the freshman, but he delivered.
"When you put freshmen out there they've got to be mentally tough," Pawlowski said. "I thought he did a really good job. He wants to be out there. He certainly picked us up today."
At the plate the hitting star was senior third baseman Wes Gilmer. Hitless in the first game he was 2-3 with a pair of doubles and three RBI in game two. Justin Fradejas was the only other Tiger to record more than a hit as he finished 3-5 with a run scored. It makes nine out of the last 11 games that the right fielder has had at least two hits.
"That was very big for us," Gilmer said of the sweep. "I enjoyed every minute of that. That was fun. Both games were real exciting and came down to the end. The pitchers came out and threw good and gave us a chance to win. We got some big hits when we needed them."
Game one starter Jon Luke Jacobs hugs Dillon Ortman following his save in game two.
On the mound Derek Varnadore got the start and allowed four runs on 10 hits in six and one/third innings. Ethan Wallen, Zach Blatt and Ortman combined to allow three runs on just two hits in the final two and two/thirds innings for the Tigers. Auburn did not record a single strikeout in the game.
Auburn got on the scoreboard first in game two and it came quickly as Fradejas led off the game with a double. It gave him a hit in 10 of the last 11 games and put the Tigers in business. Following a ground ball from Dan Gamache that moved the runner to third, shortstop Casey McElroy singled through the right side to make it 1-0 Auburn.
They weren't done however as Tony Caldwell walked for the fourth time on the day to bring Gilmer to the plate. Falling behind 0-2 to Morgan, Gilmer pulled an inside breaking ball down the left field line for a double. The ball bounced away from left fielder Hunter Gregory allowing Caldwell to score all the way from first.
"I was in there battling," Gilmer said. "I missed my first two pitches, but I was lucky enough to run into one and get some barrel on it. It was big for us."
Staked to a three-run lead, Varnadore ran into his first real trouble in the top of the third inning as number nine hitter Josh Sanders singled through the middle. Leadoff man Taylor Dugas then walked to reach base for the first time on the day. That brought catcher Brock Bennett to the plate. Needing something good to happen Varnadore got a ground ball back through the box that McElroy fielded, stepped on the bag at second, and threw to first for the double play. Another ground ball to McElroy ended the inning with Auburn leading 3-0.
The Crimson Tide (30-22, 13-13) finally got on the board in the top of the fifth as Varnadore hurt himself with a one out walk to Hunter Gregory to bring number nine hitter Josh Sanders to the plate. Hitting .180 on the season coming into the game the second baseman collected his second hit of the game with a single to put a pair on for Taylor Dugas.
Hitless in the first game he came through with a single to right field to score Gregory. Catcher Brock Bennett then put down a perfect bunt single to score Sanders to cut Auburn's lead down to one. Following a walk to load the bases Varnadore got some help from his defense as Gilmer snagged an Austen Smith ground ball, tagged third, and threw to first to complete the double play.
With Morgan in complete command on the mound Alabama again put the pressure on Varnadore in the seventh as Sanders collected his third hit of the night to lead off the inning. A single by Dugas put a pair on for Bennett and his sacrifice bunt pushed them into scoring position for shortstop Jared Reaves. He didn't miss his pitch as he blasted a double to left that scored a pair and made it 4-3 Alabama. Wallen came on in relief to get out of the inning with Auburn down a run.
Leading for the first time Alabama went to its bullpen for Charley Sullivan and it proved to be the wrong move as he walked Creede Simpson and Justin Hargett to start the bottom of the seventh. Staying hot Fradejas reached on a bunt single to load the bases with nobody out for the middle of the Auburn order.
Still struggling Gamache hit into a double play to erase Fradejas, but on the play Simpson scored and Hargett moved to third base. An intentional walk to McElroy followed to load the bases with two outs for Caldwell. Facing right-hander Josh Rosecrans, the senior catcher sliced a single into right field to score Hargett and put the Tigers back in front.
Rosecrans then helped Auburn out with a wild pitch following by a passed ball on the catcher Bennett allowed McElroy to score and move Caldwell to third. Gilmer then finished things off with his second double of the game to make it 8-4 Tigers going to the eighth inning.
Now with a four run advantage Wallen did the unthinkable to open the inning as he walked Bret Booth on four pitches to give Alabama some life. That was all for the junior as Blatt came on and got a ground ball to Patterson at first base. He threw to McElroy at second for the first out but that would be all.
Falling behind 3-0 Blatt had to groove a pitch to Sanders and he lifted a deep fly ball to right-center field that Simpson tracked down but couldn't catch. The error put runners on second and third with still just one out for Dugas. After a passed ball allowed a run to score, Dugas hit a ground ball to short that scored Sanders to make it an 8-6 lead for Auburn going to the ninth.
One swing of the bat later and it was a one-run game as Reaves hit his fourth home run of the season off Blatt to open the top of the ninth. Ortman came on to relieve Blatt and gave up a single to Smith to put the tying run on base. Following a fly ball out Ortman hit Miller to put a pair on for Booth. Finishing off his spectacular day, the freshman got Booth on a come backer at the mound. He threw to McElroy at the bag and the junior finished off the double play to seal the 8-7 victory.
The Tigers will go for the sweep on Sunday with sophomore Slade Smith the likely starter for Auburn. Alabama will go with left-hander Jonathan Smart. Game time is set for 1 p.m. at Plainsman Park.