Senior Levale Speigner improved his record to 8-0 with a much-needed solid pitching performance on a hot, muggy afternoon at Alex Box Stadium. Sophomore shortstop Chuck Jeroloman, batting just over .230 for the season, was the hitting star for the Tigers as he produced a single, triple, home run and four RBI as part of a 16-hit Auburn attack on Sunday.
In his first start since last season, Speigner was on Sunday, allowing just five hits and one earned run to a team that was leading the league in hitting coming in to the contest. Relievers Cory Dueitt and Steven Register pitched the last four innings, allowing four runs on eight hits, to seal the victory for Auburn and secure a berth in the SEC Baseball Tournament to be held in two weeks at Hoover.
Auburn's offense came to play early in Sunday's game against dominating starter Nate Bumstead for LSU. The winner of seven-straight Sunday starts, Bumstead only lasted 2/3 of an inning and gave up seven runs on five hits. The loss dropped his record to 8-2 on the season. Auburn Coach Steve Renfroe said that getting to Bumstead early was a key for his team.
"We had talked about how we were going to attack him and I'm pleased," Renfroe said. "They had a game plan and I'm pleased with how they executed it. We were looking for certain things and we really did a good job of that. That took the edge off things and with Levale in his start, it was really good for him. We played ugly, but we played hard and we played tough and we battled. That was a big win for us."
In addition to Jeroloman's big day, Sean Gamble came through with three hits and two runs batted in. Senior Bobby Huddleston banged out three hits, with two going for doubles. The top of the Auburn order was a combined 10-21 in Sunday's game with five RBI. The production started right from the first inning and never let up.
Levale Speigner came up big for Auburn on Sunday.
Auburn jumped on LSU early with Gamble again setting the tone. Hitting the ball hard all weekend, Gamble singled through the left side to put Bumstead in an early hole. Moran was next up and he hit a ground ball to third baseman Ivan Naccarata that he fielded cleanly and forced out Gamble at second. Playing aggressive baseball, Moran stole second to set up Tug Hulett with an early RBI opportunity. With the wind blowing in, Hulett decided to play small ball and bunted one just out of the reach of Bumstead for a base hit. With runners on first and third, the visiting Tigers were in business.
Wanting no part of a hot Bobby Huddleston, LSU pitched carefully and walked him to load the bases for Karl Amonite. Trying to keep the ball inside, Bumstead hit Amonite in the foot to force Moran across with Auburn's first run of the game. Struggling with his control, he then walked Josh Bell to score Hulett.
Clete Thomas decided that was enough of that and singled through the right side to score Huddleston and make it 3-0. Following a Scott Schade strikeout, shortstop Chuck Jeroloman singled to center field to score two more Tigers. Gamble then put the finishing touches on an outstanding first inning when he drilled a triple to right-center to score both Thomas and Jeroloman. Leading 7-0, Auburn turned the ball over to Speigner to take them home.
It would happen, but not before LSU put an early scare into the Tigers. In the first Bruce Sprowl led off with a bloop single to right field. Following a strikeout by J.C. Holt, Aaron Hill singled up the middle and one out later, Clay Harris singled to center field to score Sprowl. On the board, LSU could get no more off Speigner and trailed 7-1 after one inning of play.
"It was hot and putting seven on the board in the first inning takes a lot of pressure off me or any pitcher for that matter," Speigner said following the win. "Right off the bat I could relax and try to hit my spots and let my defense play behind me. That's a huge thing for a pitcher to be able to do."
Auburn again scratched in the second inning as Hulett walked to start the inning and quickly moved to third on a single to center field off the bat of Huddleston. That proved to be a big play when Hulett scored on a wild pitch during Amonite's at-bat because he eventually struck out as did Bell. Following a Thomas walk, Schade also struck out to end the inning with Auburn leading 8-1.
LSU again responded, this time doing the damage with two outs and nobody on base. The home team was helped by a porous Auburn defense. Catcher Matt Liuzza reached on a Schade error and scored just moments later on a triple by Sprowl into the right-center field gap. Showing his former infielder skills, Speigner took away another run to end the inning when he snagged a liner from Hill and threw him out to end the inning.
Trailing 2-0 in the series, Auburn wasn't about to let up and cashed in again in the third inning. Jeroloman walked to get the inning started and Gamble collected his third hit of the day when he singled to right field to bring Moran to the plate. Living on the right side lately, Moran drilled an outside pitch into the corner to score both Jeroloman and Gamble and make the score 10-2 Auburn heading to the bottom of the third inning.
Chuck Jeroloman celebrates with teammates Scott Schade and Doug Vines following his home run on Sunday.
In a pattern that has been costly for the Tigers this season, they quickly got two outs on LSU and then couldn't seal the deal. Harris was hit by a Speigner pitch and Naccarata walked to bring Ryan Patterson to the plate. Uncharacteristic of his play, Jeroloman then gave the Tigers two runs when he the ball into right field trying to force out Naccarata at second base after Patterson hit a ground ball his direction. Fortunately for the visitors, Speigner escaped the jam with no further damage and held a 10-4 lead after three.
That lead increased in the top of the fourth thanks to the bottom of the Auburn order. With one out in the inning, Schade singled past a diving Blake Gill at second base to set the stage for Jeroloman. Jumping all over a pitch from reliever Jake Tompkins, Jeroloman drilled a long home run into the left field bleachers to make it 12-4 Auburn.
"I felt good during batting practice and that was the first time I've felt good during BP in a long time," Jeroloman said. "I finally broke out of my little skid. I felt good and just happened to get a few pitches I could hit. I need to make up for my throwing error. I just came in and I was mad and they were all getting on to me. I just had to let one loose."
From there Speigner cruised despite some danger in the bottom of the fourth. After two runners reached on errors by Schade and Speigner, he calmly picked the first runner off second base for the first out of the inning. Then it was time for the ultimate redemption. With two errors in the game, Schade made a dive to snare a line drive at third base and doubled the runner off first to end the inning and the LSU rally.
From there the two teams would trade runs back and forth for the remainder of the game. A Hulett solo home run in the top of the ninth capped Auburn's offense for the evening and the Tigers held on to win despite giving up two LSU runs in the bottom of the ninth inning. The victory leaves the Tigers within striking distance of LSU heading into the final weekend of play, something Renfroe said is important for this team.
"Every coach will tell you that if you're going to win just one on the road, win it on Sunday because that's a long bus ride," he noted. "This was a huge win for us. It puts us over .500 for the year no matter what and it gives you a chance to host. It still keeps you mathematically in it. We'll take our best shot at it."