Lipscomb, Tigers Tame Wildcats At SEC Tourney

Auburn advanced to the double-elimination portion of the SEC Baseball Tournament with a 6-3 win over Kentucky on Tuesday in Hoover that helped AU's chances of making an NCAA regional.

Hoover, Ala.--Starting pitcher Cole Lipscomb delivered in one of the biggest games of the year for the Tigers as he shut down the Kentucky Wildcats on Tuesday at the SEC Baseball Tournament in a 6-3 Auburn (35-22) victory.

Jackson Burgreen and Daniel Robert each had three hits for the Tigers as they pounded out 14 hits in the win, but the story of the day was Lipscomb.

Pitching seven and two/thirds innings, the right-hander allowed just two runs on four hits and struck out nine to earn his eighth win of the season. Justin Camp finished the game for the Tigers, allowing a run on three hits in one and two/thirds innings, which was enough to send Auburn into the double-elimination portion of the SEC Tournament against No. 1 seed LSU on Wednesday and likely secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament as well.

“It was very special,” Lipscomb said of the win. “We’ve been talking about all week—bubble team and everybody’s been saying, some we’re in, some saying we’re not. We really just wanted to come in here and take it out of the committee’s hands and put on a strong showing this week and get to the double-elimination portion so there was a big emphasis on the game tonight.

"We came out and everybody on the field played great tonight," Lipscomb added. "I’m really proud of our guys.”

In the other dugout Kentucky Coach Gary Henderson is known as one of the top pitching coaches in the country for his work with the Wildcats (30-25). While his team came in swinging the bat well, he said for them it was just a case of too much Lipscomb.

“It’s a pretty simple formula,” he said of Lipscomb’s performance. “He was getting ahead and has a fastball on both sides with an 83-84 MPH little cutter that was really good. Then, obviously, he’s way ahead of the game with a change-up. He’s good.

"We’re not the first team that has had trouble with him," the coach added. "That’s how you get to be all-league. It’s pretty simple; don’t walk anybody, pitch both sides and two or three pitches for a strike. It’s not an accident that he’s done a lot of winning. He wasn’t just lucky tonight, he’s good.”

Kentucky pitcher Zack Brown entered Tuesday’s game as one of the hottest pitchers in the SEC, but the Tigers took it to him his entire outing starting in the first inning. An error on an Anfernee Grier ground ball and a single by Gray put Auburn in business early. Following a sac bunt to move runners to second and third, Grier was thrown out at the plate on a passed ball to kill the rally, but it served notice that the Tigers were onto Brown.

In the third the Tigers finally got on the scoreboard as Burgreen walked to start the inning to bring Grier to the plate and set up a crazy play. With a full count, Burgreen was off on the pitch and Grier checked his swing at the plate. Burgreen slid into second ahead of the tag and Auburn looked to have runners on first and second with no outs, but an appeal to first meant a strikeout of Grier. Moments later an appeal to the second base umpire got a highly questionable call of out at second for Burgreen.

The double play and mystery call could have taken the wind out of the sails for the Tigers in the inning, but instead Gray singled and Damon Haecker walked to bring Robert to the plate. Getting a pitch to hit, Robert singled through the right side to score Gray and give Lipscomb a 1-0 to work with.

Jackson Burgreen scores a run against the Wildcats on Tuesday

Controlling the game on the mound, Lipscomb pitched a scoreless third inning to allow Auburn’s offense to do more damage in the fourth.

Following a leadoff single by Kyler Deese, number seven hitter Austin Murphy drew a walk before Cody Nulph bunted both into scoring position for Burgreen. Jumping on the first pitch, Burgreen drilled a ball just inside the first-base bag and before he was done running it was a two-run triple to make it 3-0 Tigers.

“I guess the triple, really, Coach Golloway told me to choke up and be ready for my pitch,” Burgreen said. “We’ve been working on that pretty hard the last two weeks. I guess I didn’t miss it. I got the barrel out and squared it up. It means a lot to be able to play now. I worked hard my last three years and I’m just glad I had the opportunity to play.”

Two innings later Auburn was at it again as Burgreen’s one out single got the Tigers going. Struggling at the plate in the last few weeks of the regular season, Grier singled up the middle with Burgreen running from third. Easily advancing to third on Grier’s hit, Burgreen scored on a Gray fly ball to make it a four-run advantage. A single by Haecker to left field and the second hit of the game by Robert quickly made it 5-0 Auburn.

It took until the seventh inning for the Wildcats to get on the board against Lipscomb and it came via the long ball. With just two hits as a team through six innings Kentucky got a solo home run from Ka’ai Tom to open the seventh and break up the shutout for Lipscomb. That cut Auburn’s lead back to four, but that was all for the Wildcats as Lipscomb came back to retire the side and keep the Tigers in control.

In the eighth Lipscomb ran out of gas as he left the game with a runner on second and two outs. Reliever Camp allowed three consecutive singles to make it 5-3 with the tying runs on base and JaVon Shelby at the plate. Kentucky’s top power threat, Shelby couldn’t lay off the breaking ball from Camp and struck out to leave two runners on base.

With the lead cut to just two runs Auburn got some much-needed insurance in the top of the ninth as Logan singled through the left side before Deese followed with a bunt single. In as a pinch-hitter two innings earlier, Jordan Ebert faked a bunt and slashed a single through the drawn in infield to score Logan and give Auburn a 6-3 lead. That would be all for the Tigers, however, as Camp went back out in ninth to close the door for the victory.

Auburn will now try to earn an automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament by winning the SEC Tournament. Next up for the Tigers is No. 1 seed LSU. Auburn will send senior Rocky McCord (5-4, 3.65 ERA) to the mound with LSU expected to go with left-hander Jared Poche (7-1, 3.18). The first pitch is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. CDT in game three of the day.

“Rocky will be ready to go,” Auburn Coach Sunny Golloway said. “At this point in the double elimination portion what does it matter who you play? Don’t you want to play the No. 1 team in the country? We do. It will be a tremendous challenge but Rocky will be up to it.”

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