Three Pitchers Lead AU To SEC Tourney Victory

Auburn advanced to the winner's bracket of the SEC Baseball Tournament with a victory over Vandy and will play Alabama on Friday.

Hoover, Ala.--True freshman pitcher Chris Dennis had started just three college games before Thursday's SEC Baseball Tournament first round matchup against Vanderbilt, but it didn't seem to matter as he gave up just three hits in five innings as Auburn took a 3-1 victory on Thursday at the Hoover Met.

Auburn (39-17) scored all of its runs off Commodore ace Jeremy Sowers on the way to the victory. Shortstop Chuck Jeroloman smacked two doubles and Josh Todd added two bunt singles for the Tigers as they got just seven hits, but earned their first win in the tournament in four years after eight consecutive losses in the event.

Chris Dennis pitched well as a starter vs. the Commodores.

"I was excited about it," Dennis said about his start. "I've been waiting for an opportunity like this all year. The coaches have done a great job for situations like this by putting me in big situations. I was confident because they had the confidence in me to go do it. I was just trying to give us as many innings as possible and get to our bullpen because they have been so great all year. I felt good."

Facing perhaps the best pitcher in the Southeastern Conference and one of the top players in the entire nation, Auburn had a tough chore coming into Thursday's game. The Tigers hoped to take advantage of every opportunity they had against the crafty left-hander. While that wasn't the case, the Tigers did just enough at the plate to come away with the win and advance to the second round at 5 p.m. CDT on Friday against Alabama, which outscored South Carolina 9-7 on Thursday.

"That was a very good baseball game," Auburn Coach Steve Renfroe said. "Jeremy Sowers is as good as it gets. I don't think we can have better at-bats than we did and we still don't score. We were opportunistic. We knew we were going to have to play a game of move them up and I thought bunting--that was just a great job by him (Josh Todd). He hasn't been in the lineup and to try to bunt that guy was huge."

Playing in place of normal first baseman Karl Amonite, who was the designated hitter in Thursday's game, Todd came up twice in crucial situations and each time he got the job done with base hits. His play and the relief pitching of Cory Dueitt and Steven Register along with the play of Dennis and Jeroloman gave Auburn the win and produced smiles all around heading into day two of the tournament.

Struggling to find an answer for his aggressive pitching style and riding high behind the strong performance from Dennis, Auburn finally got on the board against Sowers in the bottom of the fifth inning. Shortstop Chuck Jeroloman, still hampered by a sprained ankle and hyperextended knee suffered in Sunday's game against Ole Miss, fought off three two-strike pitches before hammering a fastball into right field for a leadoff double. Playing first base, Todd was called on to bunt the runner over and he did more than that, pushing it past Sowers for a single to bring Sean Gamble to the plate.

Playing against conventional wisdom, which called for the bunt, Gamble swung away and hit it to third baseman Tony Mansolino. Taking his time before throwing home, his throw was wide and allowed Jeroloman to score the game's first run.

With runners still on first and second with nobody out, Javon Moran put down a perfect sacrifice bunt to bring Hulett to the plate with runners in scoring position. Facing the nasty left-hander, Hulett went down on strikes after seeing six straight breaking pitches. The threat ended when Bobby Huddleston flew out to center field to bring the inning to a close.

The Commodores got back even with the Tigers in the top of the sixth thanks to the play of Ryan Klosterman. Throwing his quota of pitches for the day, Dennis was replaced by Dueitt to start the inning and promptly fell behind 3-0 to the speedy leadoff man. Klosterman made Dueitt pay when he ripped a double just inside the third base bag to bring John Kaye to the plate. Kaye did his job, hitting a ground ball to Hulett to move Klosterman to third. He scored just moments later on a sacrifice fly by Cesar Nicolas and the game was tied at one.

Chuck Jeroloman takes a lead at third base while Coach Steve Renfroe watches the action.

The Tigers changed that in the seventh inning off Sowers. Mr. Clutch for Auburn on the day, Jeroloman doubled down the left field line to bring Todd to the plate in another bunt situation. Just like earlier in the game, Todd put down a bunt that was so good he beat it out for a base hit. Gamble was again swinging and came through with a single into right field that scored Jeroloman from third to give the Tigers the lead.

Moran couldn't get the job done as he hit a slow roller back to Sowers and the sophomore threw to third to force Todd for the first out of the inning. After looking bad against Sowers the previous at-bat with runners in scoring position. Hulett toughed it out and earned a walk to load the bases for Huddleston. That sent the Commodores to the bullpen for reliever Jensen Lewis. Sawing off Huddleston, he forced a fly ball down the right field line and into Auburn's bullpen area. Running in at full speed to make the play, Worth Scott caught the ball near the wall and was unable to stop his momentum and get enough on the throw to cut down Gamble at the plate.

Leading 3-1 heading to the eighth, it was time for Register to do his job. Throwing gas and an effective slider, Register struck out the side in the eighth inning to set the stage for a dramatic ninth.

After getting the first two hitters out in the top of the ninth inning, Register got Warner Jones to hit a ground ball to Jeroloman at short. It didn't end the game though as the normally good fielder was unable to come up with the ball, bringing Jonathan Douillard to the plate. Fighting off a fastball, Douillard dropped a bloop single into right field to put runners on the corners with two outs and Scott coming to the plate. The hero of Sunday's dramatic win over Tennessee when he hit a two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning for the win, Scott had that chance again on Thursday. This time Register had other ideas as he got Scott to fly out to Clete Thomas in right field to end the game.

Friday's Auburn game vs. Alabama is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. and can be seen on Comcast/College Sports Southeast.

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