Sophomore starter Arnold Hughey was the story of the day for the Tigers as he threw a career-high seven and two/thirds innings to pick up his fifth win of the season in Auburn's 7-2 victory Saturday. Florida reliever Tommy Boss got the win in game two with five innings pitched, allowing just three hits and two runs.
At the plate for the Tigers Javon Moran finished 5-10 on the day with three runs scored while Karl Amonite added four hits in seven at-bats and four runs batted in. Huddleston was 3-9 with five RBI. Auburn Coach Steve Renfroe said following the long day that he was generally happy with how his team performed overall.
"I was pleased with the day except for one inning and a loss," Renfroe said. "When you look at it, we played well and we battled and had a chance to win it. Karl just missed tying it up. He touches one off and just didn't get enough of it. If he hits it a little more pull he may hit it out. He didn't and they got away with it. You just tip your hat and get ready for tomorrow."
In the first game the Tigers got over their recent offensive woes quickly with four first inning runs. Sean Gamble led off the game with a single up the middle and Moran followed with a single as well to put Auburn in business. Auburn's leading hitter, Tug Hulett attempted to bunt the runners over, but was hit by a pitch to load the bases for Huddleston. That proved to be a deadly mistake for the Gators.
Fighting off three two-strike pitches, Huddleston ripped a double just inside the third base bag that scored all three runners and gave the Tigers the lead. Amonite followed with a double to left center to score Huddleston. Unlike the last time out when they stranded 13 runners, the Tigers got the early hits and that's all Hughey would need.
Showing good command of both his fastball and slider, Hughey retired the Gators in order for the first three innings. Florida got on the board in the fourth. Ben Harrison led off the inning with a single to left field and one out later he scored on C.J. Smith's 15th home run of the season, a long shot just over the green monster in left field.
The Gators threatened again in the fifth, but good defense by the Tigers kept the lead at two.
With two outs and nobody on, shortstop Justin Tordi reached on a Hughey error to bring leadoff hitter Jonathan Tucker to the plate. Homerless on the season, Tucker drilled a shot off the monster in left field that sent Tordi on his way home. Getting to third base, Tordi ran through the sign of his coach and continued towards the plate. Playing the ball off the wall perfectly, Gamble threw it into second base where Hulett caught the throw and relayed it to Huddleston at the plate. Out by 15 feet, Tordi lowered his shoulder and attempted to run over Auburn's catcher to no avail. Holding on to the ball, Huddleston threw Tordi to the ground and brought both teams running to the plate from their dugouts. While no punches were thrown and everyone remained in the game, it fired up the Auburn crowd for the remainder of the game.
The Tigers added another run in the sixth inning. Clete Thomas led off with a single through the right side and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Scott Schade. That would be just the ticket one out later when Gamble singled to left to score Thomas and make it 5-2 Tigers.
Auburn put the game away in the seventh inning when Huddleston and Amonite went back-to-back for the second time this season. Huddleston's solo shot cleared the left field wall while Amonite hit his shot just under the scoreboard in left center field.
Leading by five, Auburn had all it needed with Steven Register on the mound. Coming on for Hughey in the eighth inning, Register walked one and struck out one in one and one/third innings in game one. Throwing only 21 pitches, he would be available if needed in game two.
Game two looked like it was going to follow a similar pattern like game one with Auburn gaining the early advantage. With two outs and nobody on, Hulett walked and moved to second just moments later when pitcher Christian Madson threw wildly to first trying to catch Hulett napping. Continuing his tear on the day, Huddleston doubled into the left field corner to score Hulett and give Auburn the 1-0 lead. A walk to Amonite kept Auburn's inning alive and Bell took advantage of the situation with a long double off the right-center field wall that scored both Huddleston and Amonite.
Leading 3-0, starter Cory Dueitt took the mound hoping to give the Tigers five good innings. He came close, but it wasn't good enough for the Tigers.
In the second inning Gamble singled with one out to bring Moran to the plate. On fire at the plate on the day, Moran ripped a liner into left center for a triple that scored Gamble easily and made it 4-0 Auburn. Hulett closed out the scoring on the day when he dribbled one to Smith at first base. Booting the ball, Smith's error allowed Moran to score.
Ahead 5-0, the Tigers were on course to close the gap with division leading LSU heading into Sunday's action. Florida would have something to say about that.
Amonite congratulates Huddleston after his home run in game one. Amonite followed with a solo shot as well.
After scoring a run in the third following back-to-back singles by Stephen Barton and Tordi, the Gators added another single run in the fourth on a solo home run by Smith, his 16th of the season. The innings set the stage for an offensive explosion in the fifth that broke the game open. Losing velocity in the frame, Dueitt allowed a single to Tordi and a double to Mario Garza to open the inning and was replaced by freshman Chris Dennis.
Solid all season, Dennis didn't have his best stuff in game two. Getting the first batter he faced on a fly out, Dennis proceeded to walk both Brett Dowdy and Smith. That put him in a tight spot and the pressure took its toll as he quickly fell behind 2-0 to Harrison. Jumping on a fastball, Harrison drove the pitch over the right field wall for a grand slam and a 7-5 Gator lead.
Allowing another hit, Dennis was replaced by junior Eric Brandon and he had perhaps his best outing of the season. Giving up just one run on four hits in four and two/thirds innings, Brandon kept the Tigers in the game and gave them one last chance to tie or win the game in the bottom of the ninth inning.
"Chris Dennis has not had a bad outing this year and that was his first one," Renfroe said. "We had gone to him time and time again in that situation. He gets the first out and then he just didn't have it. He walks the big guy and falls behind 2-0 after two walks, you're just not going to get away with that against a good hitting club."
Trailing 8-5 with three outs remaining, Moran led off the inning with a single and stole second almost immediately to avoid the double play. That didn't matter as Hulett dropped a single into short center field to put runners on the corners with nobody out and Huddleston coming to the plate as the potential tying run. This time it wasn't to be as Huddleston was caught looking for strike three, bringing Amonite to the plate. Auburn's hottest hitter, Amonite drilled a fastball deep to the base of the center field wall where Florida's Jake Riordan hauled it in for out two. Bell was Auburn's last chance, but flew out to center field to end the game.
The Tigers now find themselves trailing division-leading LSU by one and a half games after the Bayou Bengals dropped the first two games in their series against Mississippi State. The wins bring the Bulldogs into second place, a half game ahead of Auburn with a record of 14-8. Both Alabama and Ole Miss trail Auburn by one game and Arkansas brings up the rear at 12-11 in SEC play. Trying to stay within striking distance of LSU with a trip to Baton Rouge next weekend makes Sunday's game an important one for Auburn.
"Tomorrow is huge considering State has already taken two," Huddleston said. "We need to keep up with them and stay close with LSU. If we take two at LSU then we make this race a lot closer going into the last weekend. Tomorrow is going to be huge. We need everyone to go home and get some rest and be ready for tomorrow."
Sunday's game, a 1:30 p.m. start televised by Comcast/Charter Sports Southeast, has Auburn's Colby Paxton facing off against Florida's Justin Hoyman in a battle worthy of most Friday night's around the league.