Tied at four when the Tigers (14-7) stepped to the plate in the ninth inning, Auburn was looking for some good fortune to get back in the winning column. That came thanks to some very shaky defense by UAB to give the offense an opportunity to break out. Already with two hits on the night, Melvin Gray led things off with a ground ball to short, but the Blazers booted the ball for an error to get things started.
Up next to bunt the runner over, Anfernee Grier laid one down perfectly for a base hit, but the UAB pitcher still tried to make a play. His throw to first was wild allowing Grier to reach safety, but more importantly put Gray on third with nobody out. A walk to Damon Haecker loaded the bases for shortstop Cody Nulph and he came through with a single to score Gray. Blake Logan’s sacrifice fly to left field pushed across Grier for the 6-4 lead, but that’s all the Tigers could manage.
With a two-run lead to work with the Tigers sent closer Justin Camp on to close things out in the ninth, but it wasn’t easy as Adam Schalk led things off with a double before moving to third on a groundout. A walk to Tyler Mims put the tying run on base and brought Evan Peterson to the plate. Camp compounded his problems by hitting Evan Peterson to load the bases and bring Adam Lau to the plate, but his liner to Gray at second for out number two brought Brett Blackwood up with the chance to be the hero. His fly ball to center field carried, but Grier ran it down to secure the hard-earned victory for the Tigers.
“I really like their club and they can really swing it,” Golloway said of the Blazers. “They really challenged our pitchers, but the way we came back and responded after the error and scored a couple of runs to tie it up and did what we needed to do in the ninth inning, I thought that was really big for our club. I think that’s a character builder for us. It wasn’t easy, but none of them are.”
On the mound Dalton Rentz got his first career start and pitched lights out for five innings before running into trouble. He finished the night allowed two runs on three hits in five innings of work. Reliever Izaac Yarbrough struggled in his two/thirds of an inning, giving up two runs on two hits. Robby Clements picked up the win for the Tigers in relief, pitching two and one/thirds innings of scoreless ball to improve to 2-0 on the season. Working out of trouble in the ninth, Camp picked up his fourth save of the year.
The Tigers got off to a good start with runs in both the second and third innings to take the early lead. In the second Logan led things off with a double, but was still standing there with two outs when Keegan Thompson came to the plate for his first at-bat of the season. Back in the lineup for the first time since last season, Thompson got a pitch to drive the other way and by the time he raced into third with a triple it was 1-0 Tigers.
In the third inning Gray singled to start the inning and was joined on the bases with one out by Haecker, but again it took some two-out magic for the Tigers to get on the board as Logan’s single to center field easily scored the speedy second baseman for the two-run Auburn lead.
Cruising through the first five innings and allowing just one hit, Rentz ran into some trouble in the sixth as Lau led things off with a long home run to put the Blazers on the board and give them some life. When Mitch Williams singled it brought things to a quick close for Rentz as reliever Izaac Yarbrough came on for the Tigers trying to shut down the UAB offense.
It wouldn’t happen thanks to a lapse on defense by the Tigers giving the Blazers extra life. Following a sacrifice bunt and a groundout, UAB had a runner on third with two outs when Yarbrough got Nathan Vincent to hit a slow roller just in front of the plate. Making the play, Logan’s throw sailed over the head of Thompson and the error allowed the tying run to score.
It proved to be big as Schalk singled to put runners on first and second for UAB leadoff man Griffin Gum. Getting a pitch to handle Gum drove it to left for a double to score both runners and make it a 4-2 lead for the Blazers.
UAB returned the favor in the seventh with an error that eventually led to a pair of runs for the Tigers to tie the game. With one out Thompson reached on a catcher’s interference call, but pinch hitter Alex Polston struck out looking to bring Gray to the plate with two outs. Keeping his big night going, Gray singled to put runners on first and second with two outs.
Back to the top of the Auburn order, Grier hit a ground ball to the left side that appeared to be the third out of the inning, but the throw was off-line to first. The error allowed Thompson to score and brought the Tigers back to within a run. Haecker followed with a single to score Gray and tie the game at four. That set the stage for the big ninth inning for Auburn in the win.
Auburn returns home this weekend to face Vanderbilt in a three-game series at Plainsman Park. Game times are scheduled for 6 p.m. on Friday, 7 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday.