Improving to 28-16 overall and 9-11 in SEC play, Auburn has equaled its win total from a year ago and will go for the sweep on Saturday in a game that will now start at 5 p.m. because of the threat of rain.
The Tigers will have to get the sweep without ace pitcher Keegan Thompson. Coming out of last Saturday’s game against Ole Miss with a sore arm, Thompson has been checked out and cleared according to Coach Sunny Golloway, but they’re going to give him another week of rest. That means junior Dalton Rentz (2-1, 2.82 ERA) will get his fifth start of the season on Saturday against the Bulldogs.
For the second straight night Auburn got a quality pitching performance as McCord improved to 4-3 on the year after giving up just one run on six hits in six innings. The senior struck out eight and walked just two before turning things over to closer Justin Camp. Earning his seventh save, Camp allowed two hits and no runs and struck out three for the Tigers.
“It was a hard-fought ball game and I thought they competed really well and I thought they pitched really well,” Golloway said of Georgia. “Sam Gillikin’s big two-out triple was the difference other than us tagging that last run across for a little comfort for Camp. I’m really pleased with the way our guys pitched. I haven’t gotten that pumped up in a long time.
“Rocky pitched out of jams two or three times with a strikeout,” he added. “That was huge. Rocky had me fired up. I couldn’t stay in the dugout. I was fired up for the big guy. Then bringing Camp in for the three fresh innings, there’s a chance of rain tomorrow and I’m not saying we won’t play, but you don’t worry about tomorrow you worry about winning the series today.”
For McCord it was another step in his redemption story as a senior. Pitching just over two innings last season in five appearances, McCord has now won four games in 2015, including his last two SEC starts. To be on the mound and wrap up a key series for the Tigers is something McCord said is big for him and the team.
“It was very big,” McCord said. “A few weeks ago after the Vanderbilt series we kind of got together as a team and mapped out a plan for success at the end of the year. We’re following that plan well and if we win tomorrow we’ll be right on track to where we want to be. It’s all working out good.”
Auburn wasted little time in getting to Georgia starter Sean McLaughlin as Kyler Deese singled to open the bottom of the first and moved to second on a walk to Melvin Gray. Following a fly ball out off the bat of Anfernee Grier, Deese wandered too far off second and was picked off for out number two. It proved to be big as Robert laced a double to left-center that would have easily scored two. Instead it only scored Gray from first to put Auburn up 1-0.
Walking the game’s first batter, McCord recovered to retire the next 11 Georgia hitters before giving up a two-out single to Daniel Nichols in the top of the fourth. He then walked Zack Bowers to bring Skyler Webber to the plate. Hitting just .242 on the season, Webber went the other way with a pitch and lined it through the left side for a single to score Nichols and even things at one.
Auburn would answer back in a big way in the bottom of the fourth however as Robert’s second hit of the night started the rally with a pair of one-out walks loading the bases for the Tigers. A strikeout of Cody Nulph brought the veteran Gillikin to the plate. Falling behind 1-2 in the count, Gillikin got a hanging breaking ball and drove it deep to right-center. The ball bounced off the wall and by the time Webber picked it up Gillikin was hustling into third with a bases-clearing double.
“That was a lot of weight off my shoulders,” Gillikin said of the triple. “Going back to the Vanderbilt series (striking out with bases loaded) it was the same type situation, two outs with the bases loaded, and I didn’t get it done then. I didn’t get much sleep the rest of that week and that’s something I didn’t want to happen again. I just wasn’t going to get out right there. I knew I had to come up big for us.”
Gillikin had the big hit for the Tigers on Friday night
Staked to a three-run lead, McCord went to work for the Tigers, but he would have to work out of more trouble first. In the top of the fifth the Bulldogs got back-to-back singles to start the inning before a sac bunt moved both into scoring position for Keegan McGovern. McCord came back to get a groundout right back to the mound for the second out, but he made it interesting with a high throw to Robert that the big sophomore snagged. He finished things off with a strikeout to leave two on for the Bulldogs and keep Auburn’s lead at three.
Again in the sixth inning the Bulldogs got a pair of runners on base before a McCord strikeout brought the inning to a close. On to pitch the seventh, Camp continued to trend as a two-out single and a walk brought Daniel Nichols to the plate with a chance to tighten things. Instead Camp struck him out, the ninth of the night for Auburn’s pitching.
Auburn got something going again in the eighth inning with a chance to put the Bulldogs away. Walking to start the inning, Robert moved to third on a Damon Haecker smash that took a bad hop and bounced off the glove of shortstop Nick King. That brought Jordan Ebert to the plate. Walking in his first appearance of the night two innings earlier after replacing Austin Murphy as the DH, Ebert’s groundout forced Haecker at second and left runners on the corners.
Pinch hitting for Friday’s starting catcher Ben Craft, Blake Logan was hit by a pitch to load the bases for Nulph. Coming up in that situation for the third time the shortstop came through with a fly ball to right field to score Robert and make it 5-1 Auburn. Camp closed it out to secure the series win for the Tigers with a scoreless ninth.