That streak was officially put to bed Friday night in a 5-2 victory against Princeton in the 2003 NCAA Regionals as he gave up just six hits and two unearned runs in seven and one/third innings to pick up his 10th win of the season without a loss. The win moves Auburn (41-19) into the winner's bracket showdown with Ohio State (42-16), a 10-8 winner over #2 seed Clemson earlier in the day.
A starter the last two weeks of the season after relieving for the majority of the year, Speigner opened it up against the Tigers on Friday with a strong outing to carry Auburn to a victory. Throwing 114 pitches and striking out six Princeton hitters in the process while throwing ground ball after ground ball, the senior outlasted talented senior Ryan Quillian, who gave up four runs on seven hits in six innings to pick up the loss in the game.
"They did a great job of battling with two strikes," Speigner said following the win. "Even against my fastball and offspeed stuff. They really worked hard on seeing with two strikes and putting it in play or fouling it off. I got my pitch count up early and basically we challenged them most of the night with fastballs. My splitter, I didn't use it very much because it wasn't very good. They actually hit it a couple of times and we moved away from it."
Tug Hulett came up with several big plays against Princeton.
A loud of vocal crowd of 4,209 was on hand Friday night to see what many expected to be an easy game against the champions of the Ivy League. Once Clemson got upset earlier in the day, the mood around Plainsman Park changed as fans realized anything could happen in postseason play. The electric atmosphere in the stadium was a major topic of conversation following the game as Quillian talked about how much fun it was to pitch with a large crowd in the stands, but the best remarks came from Auburn second baseman Tug Hulett.
One of three Auburn players with two hits in Friday's game, Hulett is a player who feeds off emotion and that was never more evident than against Princeton. He spearheaded a defense that was impressive at times behind Speigner. The signature play came in the seventh inning with Auburn leading 4-1. With a runner on third and two outs, Hulett went deep into the hole behind second base and threw out the runner at first to bring the capacity crowd to its feet.
"We played hard tonight," Hulett said. "It was a lot of fun with this atmosphere and this crowd. Getting out there in front of our home town people, the people that have been supporting us all year, it was important to pay them back a little bit. This is what we can do for them."
Auburn got on the board first in the second game of the day and Clete Thomas was the catalyst for the second inning rally. With one out in the inning, Thomas singled up the middle and advanced to second base on a balk by Quillian.
Waiting for a pitch to drive the other way, Scott Schade singled to right field and Thomas rounded third and headed for home. Catching the ball on one bounce, right fielder Andy Salini came up throwing, but the throw was just up the line and Thomas slid in around the tage for a 1-0 Auburn lead.
Javon Moran pops up after stealing second base against Princeton Friday night.
Playing because a right-hander was on the mound, freshman designated hitter Derek Sain ripped a single to right field and moved to second when Salini's throw got away in the infield. Chuck Jeroloman closed out the scoring for Auburn in the inning when he drilled a sacrifice fly to center field that easily scored Schade from third with Auburn's second run. Ahead 2-0, the Tigers turned things over to Speigner and the senior delivered.
Keeping the Princeton hitters at bay, Speigner kept the 2-0 lead until the visiting Tigers finally got on the board in the fifth. With nobody out, leadoff hitter Mike Chernoff walked to bring Eric Fitzgerald to the plate. Hitting a slow ground ball to Hulett at second, Fitzgerald reached first base, but Chernoff was thrown out at second for the first out of the inning. One out later Fitzgerald would score as a single to right field by B.J. Szymanski drove him home when Thomas' thrown got away from catcher Bobby Huddleston.
Leading just 2-1, Auburn would get some insurance in the bottom half of the fifth. Leading off the inning, center fielder Javon Moran doubled to left field to put the pressure on Quillian. Taking advantage of the RBI opportunity, Hulett singled down the right field line to score Moran. Bobbling the ball in right, Salini allowed Hulett to reach second base. After moving to third on a wild pitch, Hulett scored one batter later when Karl Amonite lifted a fly ball into right field deep enough to earn the RBI. Ahead 4-1, the score would remain that way until Princeton added a run in the eighth inning.
With one out in the eighth inning, Jon Miller hit a long fly ball to the right field corner that Thomas couldn't handle. Reaching second base on the error, Miller put an end to Speigner's day and brought Steven Register out of the Auburn bullpen. Gunning down the first batter he faced on three pitchers, Register gave up a single down the left field line by Salini that scored Miller to make it 4-2 Auburn. Register struck out the final batter of the inning and heading to the bottom of the eighth the Tigers were looking to break the game open.
Facing outstanding reliever Thomas Pauley, Jeroloman earned a one out walk and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt off the bat of Sean Gamble. That unselfish play would become important as Moran hit a high chopper up the middle that forced second baseman Steve Young into an errant throw trying to catch the speedster at first. Throwing the ball into the Princeton dugout, Young's error allowed Jeroloman to score the final run of the game. Register closed out the ninth inning to earn his 16th save of the season.
"That was a big win," Auburn Coach Steve Renfroe said. "The first one is huge. I thought their guy did a great job. We were very concerned about their pitching and the reports we had were right on. You're not going to score much off those guys through the ninth. Levale was up to the task and we got a couple of breaks to get a lead and then we turned it over to Steven."
Auburn will face Ohio State at 3 p.m. Saturday. Sophomore left-hander Arnold Hughey (6-5, 3.99 ERA) will take the mound for the Tigers against either sophomore lefty Chris Hanners (4-4, 5.82) or sophomore right-hander Mike Madsen (7-1, 3.33) for the Buckeyes. In game three at 11:30 a.m., it will be Princeton vs. Clemson in a loser leaves town match. The winner will face the loser of the Auburn-Ohio State game at 6:30 Saturday night.