Pitcher Cole Lipscomb allowed just one run on five hits in six and one/third innings to pick up his seventh win of the season. Second baseman Melvin Gray was the hitting star with three hits and three RBI to lead Auburn to the victory.
With the win Auburn improves to 34-20 on the season and 13-15 in SEC play while Florida drops to 38-15 overall and 17-11 in league action with its fourth consecutive series opening loss at home this season. The Tigers will send senior Rocky McCord to the mound on Saturday for his first start since April 18 looking to clinch the series and in all likelihood wrap up a regional berth.
“Cole, honestly you can’t say enough about what he’s done,” Coach Sunny Golloway said. “He’s just been very consistent every time out. He’s just been the model of what you want in a Friday night guy. I can’t say enough about it. I almost feel bad because I feel like we almost take it for granted that he’s going to go on the mound on Friday night in this tough of a conference and do what he’s done.”
At the plate the Tigers finished with 10 hits and seven different players added hits along with Gray. Back in the leadoff spot, Kyler Deese had a single, but also scored two of Auburn’s four runs on the night. Florida finished with just five hits in a losing effort.
With just one single each for Auburn and Florida through the first four innings, the pitchers' duel between Lipscomb and Logan Shore finally saw some offense in the bottom of the fifth for the Gators. After retiring the first two hitters of the inning Lipscomb gave up a shallow fly ball to center field off the bat of Mike Rivera that dropped in front of a diving Anfernee Grier for a double. Following a walk to the number nine hitter, leadoff man Dalton Guthrie singled through the left side to put the Gators on the board.
Auburn would answer back in the top of the sixth thanks to some help from the Gators in the field. Struggling to get anything going against Shore, the Tigers got a break with a leadoff walk to freshman DH Austin Murphy. Following a bunt to move him into scoring position, a ground ball off the bat of Sam Gillikin moved Murphy to third with two outs.
Pitching carefully to Deese, Shore walked him to put runners on the corners for Gray. Deciding to push the envelope, the Tigers sent Deese on a steal of second to put two in scoring position with two strikes. The move paid off as Gray’s fly ball into right field was dropped when Florida center fielder Buddy Reed and right fielder Ryan Larson collided. That allowed both runners to score to give the Tigers a 2-1 lead.
Cruising through the first six innings, Lipscomb ran into trouble in the seventh as Peter Alonzo doubled to start things and when Rivera singled to right field to put runners on the corners that was the end of the day for him. Coming on in relief, Justin Camp walked a pinch-hitter to bring Guthrie to the plate with a chance to do some damage. On the first pitch he scorched a line drive down the third base line, but it was right at Deese. He snared the ball and made a dive to double the runner at third base and end the threat for the Gators.
“It was fun and a little tense right when I came in,” Camp said of the seventh. “I was just trying to get out of there without giving up any runs and Deese made a heck of a play. You can’t ask any more out of your defense than that.
“I can honestly say that’s the first time I think I have fist-pumped on the mound,” he added. “I was just so excited and pumped for my teammates, just trying to get the win.”
Getting a break earlier in the game on the two-run double by Gray, Golloway said the Tigers got another on the play by Deese.
“We were very fortunate,” Golloway said. “That was a break that just went our way. We’ve had more than our share of breaks not go our way. The guys were even commenting in the dugout that ‘Hey, we’ve been waiting for that kind of break.’ You don’t control those kinds of things. Kyler made the play, and it was a great play don’t get me wrong, but the way we came back and capitalized and put a couple more runs on the board was big.”
That gave the Tigers a spark and they took advantage in the top of the eighth thanks to some little-used key players coming up big. Leading off the inning as a pinch hitter, Alex Polston reached on an infield single and was replaced by J.J. Shaffer at first. Up next, Cody Nulph rifled a shot into left-center to easily get the speedy Shaffer to third, but Nulph was thrown out at second for the first out of the inning.
Auburn’s leading hitter last season, but relegated to mostly DH or pinch-hitting duties for the second half of 2015 because of struggles at the plate, Jordan Ebert singled to center field to score Shaffer and make it a two-run lead for the Tigers. Following a single to left by Deese, Ebert was thrown out at third on a failed hit-and-run attempt, but it wouldn’t matter as Gray singled up the middle to score Deese for his third RBI of the night.
Now up 4-1 the Tigers put the game on the shoulders of Camp to finish things off and he delivered with two and two/thirds hitless innings to pick up his eighth save of the season.
Auburn will go for the series win at 6 p.m. central time on Friday in a game that can be seen on SEC Network Plus/Watch ESPN.