Freshmen Lead Tigers Past Bears 4-1

Freshman Keegan Thompson pitched seven scoreless innings and Anfernee Grier had two hits and two RBI in Auburn's 4-1 win over Mercer.

Auburn, Ala.--Behind another commanding performance on the mound from freshman Keegan Thompson and two hits and two runs batted in from fellow freshman Anfernee Grier, the Auburn Tigers took game two of the series against the Mercer Bears 4-1 on a beautiful Saturday at Plainsman Park. Coach Sunny Golloway's club will go for the sweep on Sunday against the #11 RPI team in the country following another impressive win.

Much of the reason for that came from Thompson. Dominating from start to finish, the Cullman native stretched his scoreless streak to 16 on the season with seven shutout innings on Saturday. Throwing just 77 pitches in the victory, Golloway said his impressive youngster was once again on top of his game and it was great to see heading into SEC play next weekend against Texas A&M.

"I thought he was really outstanding," Golloway said. "I know there were only two strikeouts, but understand that Mercer in their attack had a lot to do with that. They just had a conscious decision that they were not going to swing at anything off-speed and just try to put the fastball in play. There were a lot of pitches we were very surprised they weren't swinging at. Clearly it was being called a ball and it allowed them to get a fastball and put it in play.

"He threw 77 pitches and we wanted to get him out of there with the conference opener next week to make sure we had a fresh arm. Keegan is a competitor and he wanted his second complete game, but we wanted to try to set it up. If everything works out that's how we would want to set up an SEC win right there."

Improving his record to a perfect 3-0 on the season and dropping his ERA to just 0.24 in the process, Thompson couldn't enter his first weekend of SEC play with a better feel for his command on the mound or more confidence.

"I felt a little bit better today," Thompson said. "I was throwing a little harder, but my offspeed wasn't working as well as it was last week. I kinda had to work around it just to throw strikes and get my guys some defensive work.

"I feel a little bit more confident in my stuff," he added. "The defense is working great. We feel pretty good going into next weekend."

Struggling somewhat offensively, collecting just five total hits, Auburn got some help from Mercer to get on the board in the fourth inning and take some of the pressure off Thompson. With one out, Ryan Tella reached on an error by the Bears' second baseman. Dan Glevenyak was up next and his ground ball to short was too slow to get anyone, putting runners on first and second for Jordan Ebert.

Yet another ground ball, this one to third, was thrown wildly to first base for an error. That allowed Tella to score and moved Glevenyak all the way around to third. He would score moments later on a Daniel Robert groundout.

Staked to a two-run lead, Thompson kept mowing down the Mercer hitters, allowing his offense to break the game open two innings later. In the sixth Glevenyak reached on an error by the Mercer first baseman when the throw from third on a ground ball was dropped. With two outs he stole second and when pinch hitter Blake Logan walked it put the pressure squarely on the shoulders of Mercer reliever Morgan Pittman. A walk to Connor Short on four pitches loaded the bases for Grier as the Bears went to the bullpen for Stephen Glaze. It didn't bother Grier as he deposited a two-out single into right field to score two and give Auburn a four-run lead.

That's how things would remain until the ninth inning. Wanting to get his relievers some work, Golloway sent Trey Cochran-Gill to the mound in the eighth and he responded with a scoreless inning of work. Doing the same in the ninth with Terrance Dedrick, Auburn was pushed to the limit by a Mercer team that wouldn't quit. Three consecutive singles to open the inning brought the tying run to the plate with nobody out, and that's when the wildness ensued.

Already fired up because of a questionable strike zone all game long, Golloway was on edge before a ground ball to Damek Tomscha at first base started the play that would end his day at Plainsman Park. Stepping on the bag for the out, Tomscha threw a strike to Austin at the plate with Sasha Lagarde barreling in from third. Trying to block the plate, Austin's foot was knocked out of the way allowing the run to score. That didn't sit well with Golloway who thought Austin was in perfect position. Arguing the call momentarily, Golloway was thrown out of the game.

Sunny Golloway

With one out and runners on second and third, Dedrick uncorked a fastball that just went off the glove of Blake Austin at the plate. Trying to score from third, Chesny Young was gunned down on a perfect throw from Austin to Dedrick covering the plate. A ground ball back to the mound brought the threat to an end as Auburn won 4-1 to clinch the series.

"That's not something we want to do, but we practice it all the time here," Austin said of the play at the plate. "I just threw it where I thought he would be and he tagged him out.

"This is big for us because we always talk about RPI," he added. "Their RPI is in the Top 15. This is a big series win for us. We're going to look to sweep these guys tomorrow and come out with more energy than we did today."

Auburn will send senior Michael O'Neal to the mound on Sunday. The first pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m.

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