The win moves Auburn (37-17, 17-12) back into a tie with the Rebels (33-22) in the SEC West and makes Sunday's rubber game of the series an important one for both teams.
"That was big," Auburn Coach Steve Renfroe said following the win. "I think everybody knew we had to have one. They've beaten us up pretty good over three years. This was a big win--a must win to give us a chance to win the series and try to fight for a host site."
While Amonite's home run gave the Tigers the lead, the story of the game for the Tigers was the pitching of starter Arnold Hughey and relievers Eric Brandon and Steven Register. Giving up two runs in the second inning, the Tigers didn't allow another the rest of the game and limited Ole Miss to just six hits on the day. Hughey pitched five innings, allowing three hits and two runs while Brandon pitched two hitless innings to pick up his third win of the season.
Register came in for the eighth inning and recorded his SEC-best 14th save. Brandon said that this was a big outing for him to gain some confidence for the rest of the season.
"Wednesday Coach Fuller (Mark Fuller) came up to me and said, 'We need somebody to fill Levale's (Levale Speigner) role in the bullpen,'" Brandon said. "He was a stud coming out of the bullpen. That was kind of a challenge to me to fill his shoes.
"This was a huge win," Brandon added. "We needed today to get to tomorrow. We needed to win two this weekend to get to host. We really wanted to come back here in front of our home fans and play well here."
Things didn't look good early as the Rebels touched Hughey for two runs in the second inning to take the early lead. Right fielder Justin Donovan, who came into the game hitting just .260 with no home runs and five runs batted in, gave it his all on the first pitch of the inning and connected for a home run over the Green Monster in left field. One out later, Matt Tolbert doubled down the left field line and stole third base just moments later to put him into prime scoring position. That would be important as Jonathan Swearingen squeezed him home with a bunt back to Hughey. Leading 2-0, Ole Miss starter Brae Wright looked to be in good shape to give the Rebels the road win.
Karl Amonite prepares to unload against the Rebels on Saturday.
Coasting through the middle innings with the exception of one Auburn threat that ended when Chuck Jeroloman was thrown out trying to score from second on a single by Tug Hulett, Wright had the Tigers' number until the sixth inning. That's when the Tigers broke the game open.
Leading off the inning trying to get something going, Javon Moran drilled a fastball deep into the left-center field gap. Rounding second, Moran never slowed down and slid into third base ahead of the throw from Tolbert for a triple. A play that Renfroe said brought energy to the crowd and the Auburn team, Moran's hustle set the stage for Amonite's power surge.
Hulett followed Moran and drew a walk from Wright to bring Bobby Huddleston to the plate. Getting ahead in the count 2-0, Huddleston swung and missed at the third pitch, but didn't miss the fourth as he drilled a single into left field to score Moran and cut the lead to just one. That brought Amonite to the plate.
Tiring on the mound, Wright had begun to look more vulnerable with each and every pitch and Ole Miss sensed that with Anthony Cuppa warming up in the bullpen. Deciding to stay with the left-hander to face Amonite, Ole Miss rolled the dice. Unfortunately for them they crapped out as Amonite hit a 1-0 fastball that carried into the Rebel bullpen for a three-run home run. Leading 4-2, Auburn turned the game over to its bullpen to take the Tigers home.
"I had been struggling the past four or five games," Amonite said. "This week during practice we were working on a couple of things. I didn't really show it the first game, but today I tried to step it up and help the team out. It is working.
"The at-bat before he came in with a fastball and I hit it pretty hard to right. The second at-bat the first pitch was a curveball and the second pitch was a fastball in. I put a good swing on it and fortunately it went out."
Auburn added an insurance run in the seventh inning and Moran was again the catalyst, this time earning a walk to lead off the inning. Trying to keep him close at first, Cuppa threw the ball away on a pickoff attempt and Moran raced to second. Hulett said thank you for the RBI opportunity as he pulled a ground ball through the right side for a single that easily scored the speedster from second. Auburn would threaten to do more damage, but a questionable call at first base on Clete Thomas put a close to the inning with the Tigers leading 5-2.
On for Brandon in the eighth, Register came out and blew away the Rebels in the ninth inning for the save. Ole Miss finished with just one hitter, Charlie Waite, who had more than one hit. Auburn pitchers combined to strike out nine Rebel hitters in the win.
The news wasn't all good for the Tigers on Saturday as freshman catcher Josh Bell injured his index finger on his throwing hand and was taken for x-rays during the game. The early indication was that the finger was broken, meaning he could be done for the season. A further diagnosis should be available on Sunday.
Lost in the shuffle of Saturday's big win was the honoring of three seniors on the Auburn baseball team. Speigner, who is Sunday's starter with an 8-0 record, Huddleston and Josh Todd were honored before Saturday's game with a framed jersey commemorating their time on the Plains.
Auburn will be looking for its best conference record since the 1999 season when the Tigers take the field Sunday at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday in a game televised by Comcast/Charter Sports Southeast.