Starkville, Miss.--Following a shutout win on Friday night by the Tigers, sophomore Keegan Thompson continued the trend for Auburn on Saturday as he allowed just four hits and struck out five in eight innings of work in a 4-0 SEC baseball win.
The back-to-back shutouts for Auburn are the first time the Tigers have done that in conference play since pulling it off the accomplishment in 1988 against Ole Miss.
At the plate Anfernee Grier, Damon Haecker and Cody Nulph each had two hits for Coach Sunny Golloway’s Tigers on Saturday, but the story once again waspitching as Justin Camp came on in the ninth to preserve the shutout win and keep Auburn in line for a sweep.
“I thought Keegan did a really good job of managing his pitch count and utilizing his defense today,” Golloway said following the win. “The fact that we had won yesterday really helped us today because when neither team was scoring through the first four frames I thought they maybe took a little bit of a risk trying to score all the way from first on the ball and we made a good relay.
“Then we finally got to them and were able to push those runs across,” he added. “Our guys are really buying in to doing different things at different times. I think we’re becoming more difficult to defend when we get a guy on first or first and second. You can kind of see the wheels start to spin for the opposing pitcher. I told the guys that I like where we’re at and now let’s keep executing.”
With the victory Auburn improves to 17-10 overall and 3-5 in league play. The shutout loss drops Mississippi State to 18-11 and 2-6 in league action and runs the consecutive scoreless inning streak for the Bulldogs 29 innings. The Bulldogs have now been shutout in three straight games for the first time since 1975.
Improving to 5-2 on the season and dropping his ERA to 2.87 in the process, Thompson was dominant in the victory for the Tigers and said much of the reason for his success on Saturday goes to his defense and an offense that took the pressure off early.
“It’s easy to throw strikes when you have a lead like that,” Thompson said of getting ahead 4-0 after four innings. “Early in the game they had runners on first and third and we made a great defensive play to stop them at home on a bunt play.
"Then in the fourth we got a great relay at the plate," the sophomore said. "After that we scored three runs real quick to capitalize on the momentum shift from that relay.”
Auburn threatened to take the early lead in the first inning as Grier and Damon Haecker both singled to open the game on another very cold day at Dudy Noble Field. With an opportunity to do some damage the Tigers instead suddenly couldn’t make contact against MSU starter Austin Sexton as he struck out Jordan Ebert, Daniel Robert and Blake Logan to end the threat.
The Bulldogs returned the favor in the bottom of the first as Cody Brown singled to start the game on the first pitch from Thompson. Following a sacrifice bunt and a wild pitch Gavin Collins’ ground ball to Haecker at third put him in no man’s land as Brown broke towards the plate. That caused Haecker to break towards third initially and by the time he looked to first it was too late to throw out Collins. With runners on the corners and trying to create some offense the Bulldogs called on Jacob Robson to bunt and his pop up was fielded on one hop by Robert. His throw to the plate was in time to gun down Brown and kill the scoring threat.
Mississippi State again threatened in the bottom of the fourth with a Ryan Gridley single giving the Bulldogs another chance to get something going. With two outs and still on first Gridley took off on the pitch and John Holland smashed a double to left field. Not slowing down rounding third. Gridley was thrown out easily at the plate as Ebert’s throw to Cody Nulph was relayed perfectly to Logan at the plate to keep things scoreless. That would be the last hit of the day for the Bulldogs.
With just three hits in the first four innings, Auburn finally broke through in the top of the fifth and once again the Tigers got some help from the Bulldogs. Batting to earn a walk to get things going, designated hitter Kyler Deese advanced to second when Nulph’s bunt scooted past Sexton for a single. Following a sac bunt by Sam Gillikin, Grier’s second hit of day scored both Deese and Nulph to make it 2-0.
Thanks to a Robson error in center field on his single, Grier advanced to second and that proved to be important as Haecker hit a ground ball right back to the pitcher. Breaking on the play, Grier beat Sexton’s throw to third to put runners on the corners with Ebert at the plate. Finishing off a rough inning in the field for the Bulldogs Sexton threw a pitch to the backstop allowing Grier to score for a three-run lead.
Anfernee Grier had a pair of hits for the Tigers
With Thompson cruising on the mound Auburn added to its lead in the top of the eighth inning. Getting a leadoff single from Haecker and a sac bunt by Ebert, a Robert single put runners on the corners with one out for Logan. Jumping on the first pitch, the sophomore ripped a single through the left side to score Haecker for a 4-0 lead. The Tigers eventually loaded the bases with one out, but an Alex Polston bunt back to Bulldogs’ pitcher Ross Mitchell started a 1-2-3 double play to end the threat.
That’s all Auburn would need however as they shut down the Bulldogs the rest of the way for the win. While the offense still didn’t break out with a huge performance, Grier said getting the pitching they’ve gotten the last two days really takes the pressure off the hitters.<
“When we get the lead we feel like our pitchers can hold it down,” Grier said. “We would like to score more runs because we have one good inning and kind of lay down offensively, but we’re still confident in our pitchers so it takes a lot of pressure off us.”
Auburn will try for its first SEC sweep on the road since 2011 on Sunday with junior Dalton Rentz getting the ball for the Tigers. The first pitch is scheduled for 1:30 p.m.