With two outs and the bases loaded in the ninth inning, Jacksonville State's number nine hitter, Taylor Hawthorne, hit a fly ball deep into the gap in right field that Ebert made a dive for and gloved to preserve the win
It wasn’t without controversy, however, as the umpires never gave a signal for the catch, and all three Jacksonville State runners crossed the plate before the ball got back into the infield. Coach Sunny Golloway argued the catch was made and after a conference the umpires agreed, much to the dismay of JSU Coach Jim Case. His argument fell on deaf ears as Auburn walked away with a hard-earned victory to improve to 8-2 on the season.
“We were in no doubles (defense) and I really didn’t think the kid could hit the ball that far,” Ebert said of the final play. “I felt like I got a really good jump on it. I thought Anfernee (Grier) might call me off late, but I just dove and snow-coned the ball. I got up and thought the umpire had called it safe so I just threw the ball in as fast as I could just in case.
“It’s probably one of the coolest moments in my career here,” Ebert added. “It’s just a great win. It’s great momentum going into Oklahoma State tomorrow. It will be a big challenge for us, but I really think this team is starting to click.”
Leading 6-2 going into the ninth Auburn looked to be in great shape with reliever Dalton Rentz on the mound, but the Gamecocks added a pair of runs in with two outs and the go-ahead run at the plate in Elliot McCummings.
Already with two hits on the day, McCummings wouldn’t face Rentz as closer Justin Camp came in to shut the door, but a walk loaded the bases to bring Hawthorne to the plate. That set the stage for Ebert’s dramatic catch to seal the victory for Golloway’s club on a day when the Tigers didn’t play well, but found a way to win.
“That exemplifies where we used to be and where we want to be,” Golloway said. “We want to be cleaner in every game, but I’ll tell you what I told our guys. When you are a program that is ranked high, when you are a hunted team, it doesn’t matter who you are playing because every game is important and every pitch is important. You tend to lock in better.
“When you’re one of those teams on the outside you say, ‘hey, Georgia Tech is ranked. Tomorrow Oklahoma State is ranked.’ You have letdowns. We’ve got to learn in our program that every pitch, every out and every game is important. We have to learn to lock in because we weren’t locked in today.”
Auburn had four players with two hits each in the win with Anfernee Grier extending his hitting streak to 12 games in the leadoff spot. Damon Haecker added two hits as well, but the big blows came from Cody Nulph and Blake Logan. Each had two RBI in the win to go along with their two hits with Nulph adding his second home run of the year.
On the mound starter Trey Wingenter struggled, allowing two runs on six hits in just three and one/third innings. Jacob Milliman allowed just one hit in two and one/third innings in a solid outing with the win going to Will Thompson. The junior college transfer didn’t allow a hit in one and one/third innings to get the victory.
It didn’t take long for Wingenter to run into trouble as Gavin Golsan, Paul Angel and Paschal Petrongolo all singled to start the game for the Gamecocks. Facing cleanup hitter Tyler Gamble, Wingenter couldn’t find the strike zone and walked home Golsan to put Jacksonville State up 1-0 early. Still with no outs, the junior settled in to retire the next three hitters and escape serious trouble.
With JSU starter Zachary Fowler pitching well Auburn missed two opportunities to get on the board early. In the third the Tigers had Haecker at first base with two outs and Ebert at the plate. Getting a pitch to pull, Ebert lifted a fly ball to deep left field that Angel snared on a leap to end the inning.
In the fourth Clayton Daniel doubled to start the frame for the Gamecocks and when McCummings drilled a single to left field it was 2-0 Jacksonville State. It took two innings for the Tigers to respond, but when they did it was in a big way.
Getting the first out of the sixth, Fowler walked freshman Hunter Tackett on four pitches to end his day. Jacksonville State went to the bullpen for Joe McGuire, a move the Gamecocks would soon regret. A walk to Sam Gillikin brought Nulph to the plate with a chance to do some damage and the junior college shortstop delivered.
Jumping on a high fastball, Nulph drove a double into the gap to score Tackett and put the Tigers on the board. With a pair of runners in scoring position, Logan picked up his third hit in the last two games with a double to score two more and put Auburn in front 3-2.
Needing insurance the Tigers went back to the same duo in the eighth as Nulph started the inning with a solo home run to left field. It was his second of the year and gave Auburn a two-run lead. Another double from Logan put the catcher in scoring position for Grier and his double down the third base line gave the Tigers a three-run advantage.
Ebert put the finishing touches on the win with runners on the corners and one out. Getting the call from Golloway for the squeeze, the junior right fielder got the bunt on the ground to score the speedy Grier from third. With a 6-2 lead things looked good for the Tigers, but it wouldn’t be easy.
Auburn will face Oklahoma State on Saturday with senior Rocky McCord getting the call on the mound for the Tigers. First pitch is scheduled for 3 p.m. with Jacksonville State-Western Illinois scheduled for 7 p.m.Box Score
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