Moving On: Pitching Leads AU Over Mercer

Rocky McCord and Keegan Thompson pitched Auburn pasat Mercer in Saturday's baseball elimination game in the Tallahassee Regional.

Rocky McCord (above) got the start for the Tigers on Saturday in Tallahassee vs. the Mercer Bears at Dick Howser Stadium.

Tallahassee, Fla.--Auburn pitchers Rocky McCord and Keegan Thompson combined to pitch a shutout and keep the season alive for the baseball Tigers as they defeated Mercer 1-0 on Saturday to stay alive in the NCAA Regional in Tallahassee.

A sacrifice fly from Blake Logan to score Jordan Ebert in the sixth inning was all the offense Auburn would need as the Tigers (36-25) eliminated Mercer to advance to Sunday’s elimination game against the loser of College of Charleston-Florida State.

“I thought we really played well,” Coach Sunny Golloway said. “We had some missed opportunities when we bunted guys up to second and third, but you have to give them credit because they went to the bullpen before their guy had even given up a run. We never let that get us down because Rocky was pitching so well on the mound.

“Ebert coming off the bench to pinch hit for us was huge,” he added. “He did a great job, working that run around was really big for us. Then Keegan in relief, that was kind of the storyline. We had really terrific defense on our part. I’m really proud of our guys. We knew it was going to be a hard-fought victory and at this point it’s just about trying to continue to advance and play for another day. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Needing a big pitching performance to begin to climb out of the loser’s bracket, Auburn got just what the doctor ordered on Saturday from McCord. Pitching into the seventh inning before giving way to Thompson, the senior allowed just six hits and no runs in six and two/thirds innings for the Tigers. Despite pitching just four innings since mid-April, Thompson was big out of the bullpen, allowing just one hit in two and one/third innings to earn the save.

“I think what he showed is that physically he’s been working hard as far as his rehab,” Golloway said of Thompson. “When he came off there to get us out of the jam in the seventh I told him, because I know his mind he was thinking he doesn’t have his best stuff, I told him that he was on the mound because of make-up. When his missed the balls were down in the zone. He knows how to compete and how to not get beat with the long ball.”

A pitcher’s duel is not something you expect in a loser’s bracket game, but that’s exactly what unfolded on Saturday as McCord kept the Bears off-balance while Mercer starter Eric Nyquist and reliever Morgan Pittman did the same to the Tigers. Through five innings the game remained scoreless before Auburn finally got on the board in the sixth.

Pinch-hitting for the Tigers to open the inning with the left-handed Pittman on the mound, Ebert singled to center field to get Auburn’s offense started. With one out Ebert stole second to move into scoring position before a single from Sam Gillikin put runners on the corners with one out. Following a stolen base by Gillikin to put runners on first and second, Logan lifted a fly ball deep enough to score Ebert and put Auburn on the board.

Keegan Thompson came through for the Tigers on Saturday.

That was enough to give the Tigers the win, but not before some drama in the seventh. Getting the first two hitters in the inning before allowing a single and a walk, McCord gave way to Thompson to try to finish it off. Walking his first batter to load the bases, Thompson got a line out to Cody Nulph at shortstop to end the threat and keep the Tigers in front.

In the ninth the Bears got the leadoff man on base and when Matt Meeder smashed a ball to the left side it looked like trouble, but Damon Haecker gobbled it up and threw to Melvin Gray at second to start a huge 5-4-3 double play. Mercer would get the tying run on base with two outs, but Thompson came back to get a fly ball to Anfernee Grier in center field to secure the win.

Left fielder Jackson Burgreen led the Tigers with two of the six hits for the team on the day while Devin Bonin and Charlie Madden each had two hits for Mercer in a losing effort.

Auburn will face the loser of College of Charleston and Florida State on Sunday at 11 a.m. CDT on Sunday. A win would keep the Tigers alive to play against at 5 p.m. on Sunday.

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