Senior Day Magic; Tigers Take Down Gators 5-4

Auburn beat second-ranked Florida 5-4 in dramatic fashion on Saturday to finish the regular season 30-26, 13-17 in SEC play.

Auburn, Ala.—Senior Day lived up to its billing on Saturday as Justin Bryant singled home two runs to give the Tigers the lead in the seventh and saved the game for fellow senior Derek Varnadore in the ninth as Creede Simpson's throw at the plate cut down Florida's Preston Tucker for the final out of the 5-4 Auburn win. The victory keeps Auburn's NCAA hopes alive and gives the Tigers (30-26, 13-17) some momentum heading into next week's SEC Tournament.

After two poor performances in the series and with shortstop Dan Glevenyak along with first baseman Garrett Cooper unable to go because of injuries, the shorthanded Tigers battled from start to finish in salvaging a win in the series. Coach John Pawlowski said his team just wouldn't surrender and made plays when they needed them the most.

"Today was a special day," Pawlowski said. "Something special happened here today. Those eight seniors and our two managers that are going to move on, I'm just really proud of the way our kids responded. We were down several players today and the guys stepped into those roles and played and contributed. That was pretty special on this big day for all our seniors."

Pitching seven strong innings, allowing four runs on 10 hits, Varnadore shut down the Gators after the fourth inning to keep the Tigers in the game. That proved to be big as Auburn's offense finally got on track in the bottom of the seventh. Down 4-2 and facing Florida stud reliever Steven Rodriguez, Zach Alvord, Mitchell Self and Tanner Cimo all singled to load the bases with nobody out for the Tigers.

Coming on to play second when Simpson moved to right field because of an injury to Jay Gonzalez, Cimo got down 0-2 in the count against the left-hander before slicing a pitch into left field for a single. With the bases loaded, Simpson hit a high chopper on the infield and the only play for Florida was at second. Alvord scored on the play and with one out the Tigers still had runners on the corners.

Rodriguez recovered to strike out Ryan Tella for the second out to bring Bryant to the plate. Facing closer Austin Maddox, the senior battled and hit a bouncer through the middle that Florida second baseman Casey Turgeon fielded and threw to first. Never slowing down from second, Simpson raced around third and headed for home as Bryant beat the play at first. Simpson slid into home to give Auburn the lead 5-4 with only two innings left.

"I knew Maddox had a firm fastball and a really good breaking ball," Bryant said. "I was going to sit on his fastball until he threw it by me. He spotted up two breaking balls on me and kind of got me in a hole. When I got to a full count I was just trying to put something through the right side. I kind of dove at one and put it a little up the middle than what I wanted, but it got the job done. I was happy."

Pitching a scoreless eighth inning, Bryant went back out in the ninth to close the door. All that was standing in his way was the top of the Florida order in Nolan Fontana, Preston Tucker and Mike Zunino. All three potential first round selections in this year's MLB Draft, Fontana was out number one on a ground ball to Cimo at second. A Tucker single to right field kept the Gators alive and brought Zunino to the plate.

Getting a pitch to drive, the catcher launched a laser towards the canyon in left-center field that Bobby Andrews tried to run down. The ball was just out of his reach however and bounced away towards center field. Hustling on the play, Tella retrieved the carom and relayed it back into the infield. That kept Tucker from scoring as the Florida third base coach held him with Brian Johnson coming to the plate.

Auburn celebrates the win over Florida

Facing the big lefty, Bryant got a shallow fly ball that Simpson caught in short right field. Running on the play from third, Tucker was gunned down by the Auburn senior to end the game and put a dramatic finish to senior day on the Plains.

"Jay went down and was questionable," Simpson said. "At the last second he said he couldn't swing so I went out there. I didn't really have much action until the last inning. I saw the ball and realized it was shallow. I just tried to get behind it and make a good throw. We got him. War Eagle!"

Getting through the first inning without allowing a run was a huge milestone for Varnadore on Saturday considering the Tigers had problems getting out of the gate in the first two games of the series against the Gators. It didn't last long however as Florida struck for three runs in the second to once again seize the early momentum.

Leading off, Friday's winning pitcher Johnson singled off the glove of Self' glove to get the Gators moving. Center fielder Daniel Pigott followed with a double to right field to put runners on first and second with nobody out. Turgeon didn't slow down any as his fly ball into the right field corner fell in front of a diving Gonzalez for a triple.

Injured on the play, Gonzalez would be replaced in right field the next inning by Simpson with Cimo taking over at second base. With Turgeon on third and nobody out, Varnadore walked Justin Shafer before getting a double play off the bat of Vickash Ramjit. That allowed the run to score from third and make it 3-0 Florida going to the bottom of the second.

Derek Varnadore got the win to improve to 4-7 on the season.

After getting out of a jam in the first inning when Gonzalez reached second base with nobody out, Whitson faced the same situation in the second as Patrick Savage doubled to center field to lead off the inning for the Tigers. Two outs later that's where he still stood as Alvord fell behind 0-2 before getting a fastball to hit. The sophomore didn't miss it as he laced it down the right field line for a double to score Savage and put Auburn on the board.

The Tigers cut into the lead even more in the third as Cimo walked to lead off the inning. Another one out walk to Tella put two runners on for the Tigers with one out. Following a Bryant pop up, Savage hit a smash off the glove of Fontana at shortstop. The ball bounced into left field, allowing Cimo to score and make it 3-2.

A mistake cost the Tigers in the top of the fourth as Self booted a Shafer ground ball to give the Gators some life against Varnadore. Following a Ramjit strikeout, Justin Tobias singled on a hit and run to put runners on the corners with one out. Up next, Fontana hit a ground ball to Savage at first. Coming up throwing to the plate, Savage caught Shafer for out number two. Florida still made Auburn pay for the mistake as a Tucker single under the glove of Savage at first scored Tobias and put the Gators up 4-2.

That set the stage for the dramatic Auburn victory with the seniors finishing their careers at Plainsman Park in style with the comeback win.

Guaranteed of being eligible for the postseason with the win, Auburn will face either Florida or Kentucky on Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. in the 3/10 matchup at the SEC Tournament in Hoover.

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