Giving up just one run on five hits and striking out career-high nine batters, Hughey improved his season record to 6-5 and moved Auburn into a rematch with Alabama which the Tigers lost Saturday night. The victory over USC gives Auburn 40 wins on the season and make South Carolina's record 39-20.
The win and rematch with Alabama is a big story in Hoover Saturday, but the story of the day for Coach Steve Renfroe was the performance by Hughey. Needing some quality innings out of the starter if the Tigers hoped to have a chance at winning the title, Hughey did just that. Showing outstanding command, he shut down the Gamecocks and Auburn lived to play another game.
"He put us on back and I think we were very opportunistic today," Renfroe said following the win. "We played hit and ran and ran a little bit and hit behind runners to move them. The real story was the resiliency of our kids and Arnold Hughey.
"It saved our pen so we have a shot," Renfroe added. "If we can get through tonight we'll have a couple of guys back for tomorrow and that gives you a chance. Without that complete game, even with a win, we're out of gas. If we can piece one together tonight and then we'll have some innings of out guys tomorrow. If you ever get there, usually you see on that last day you have someone that steps up."
The Tigers wasted little time in jumping on Campbell and the Gamecocks. With one out in the first Moran singled up the middle to get things going. Trying to put the pressure on, Moran headed for second on an early pitch to Tug Hulett. That was a big play for Auburn as Hulett hit what would have been a sure double play ball, but Moran was able to get to second and leave Carolina's only play at first. Designated hitter Bobby Huddleston made the Gamecocks pay moments later when he drilled a single into left field to score Moran with the game's first run.
Struggling to find his rhythm, Campbell walked both Karl Amonite and Scott Schade to bring true freshman Clete Thomas to the plate. Fighting off some tough pitches, Thomas dropped one right in front of home plate that looked to be a sure end to the inning, but catcher Landon Powell threw to first and hit Thomas in the helmet. The error allowed Huddleston to score and Auburn led 2-0 after one half inning of play.
Both pitchers settled in until the third inning when Auburn broke through. With one out in the inning, Amonite worked another walk from Campbell to bring Schade to the plate. Driving a ground ball deep in the hole at shortstop, Schade reached first and his play forced a bad throw from Justin Harris to second that moved Amonite to third with nobody out. Thomas then used his speed like he's done so many times this season and beat out a potential double play to score Amonite and give the Tigers a 3-0 lead.
The score would remain that way for quite a while as both Hughey and Campbell dominated the middle of the game. Showing a sharp breaking ball and outstanding control, Hughey almost gave the Tigers their first shutout of the season, but just ran out of gas late. His outing was good enough to carry Auburn into the top of the ninth inning with a 3-0 lead. The Gamecocks managed just four hits through eight innings and allowed the Tigers to break the game open with two runs in the last frame.
Tug Hulett watches a pitch in Saturday's game. Hulett was 1-3 with two walks in the game.
Sizzling hot at the plate, Moran got things started with a single to center field. Trying to avoid the double play, Renfroe sent Moran into motion and Hulett took advantage of a hole in left field to squirt the ball through into left field for a single. Rounding second without slowing down, Moran cruised into third base ahead of the throw of left fielder Michael Campbell's throw, which bounced away from Brian Buscher. The errant throw allowed Moran to score and give Auburn a 4-0 lead.
Moving up to second on the throw, Hulett advanced to third on a Huddleston groundout. With Amonite coming to the plate, South Carolina elected to walk him to set up the double play for Schade. Playing solid fundamental baseball, Schade lifted a fly ball into center field that scored Hulett easily from third base. Leading 5-0, Hughey went back out in the ninth looking for Auburn's first complete game of the season.
After getting the first out of the inning, Russell Triplett walked and stole second base to give Kevin Melillo a shot to drive him home. Hughey finally showed a chink in his armor as Melillo blooped a double just outside of the reach of Sean Gamble in left field that scored Triplett to break up the shutout. Tiring in the sweltering heat in Hoover, Hughey held on to get the final two outs of the game and send Auburn into tonight's bracket finals against Alabama.
"I thought getting the first out was the big thing," Hughey said. "To get that first guy out, it's a big relief to our team and gives their team less of a chance. I was able to do that through most of the innings and that really kept me powered up."
Moran led the way for the Tigers with three hits and two runs scored. Amonite added two hits as did Schade. Auburn pounded out 10 hits in the game compared to just five for South Carolina.