Auburn, Ala.--Despite very shaky defense it was a successful opening day for the Auburn Tigers and first-year Coach Butch Thompson as they took down Sacramento State 10-5 in front of a near sellout crowd at Plainsman Park. Auburn’s offense was in midseason form with Anfernee Grier and Jordan Ebert both coming through with three hits to lead the charge.
Very happy to get the first victory under his belt, Thompson said it was good to get a win but there is a whole lot to work on for his club heading into the second game of the series on Saturday.
“You’ll always take the W,” Thompson said following the win. “Today we didn’t play great and won. The offense, being able to navigate an at-bat, we did that. (Niko) Buentello clearing those bases was huge. Then we got the momentum and Grier hitting the home run, I thought that was a big piece.”
Going 3-4 with three runs and two RBI, both coming on a home run in the fourth inning, Grier started his 2016 season on a roll with a big day at the plate. A big part of a 14-hit day for the Tigers, Grier said it was a fun game and he’s just glad to get the victory.
“It was big, just good to get back on the field,” Grier said. “It’s nice to get with the team and see how we play together. It was just a fun experience all the way around. With the atmosphere it was just a fun experience for us.”
While Grier continued his strong play from a season ago, for Ebert it was a day of redemption after struggling last year while being in and out of the lineup. In the DH role for the Tigers he was 3-5, something that put a smile on his face following the victory.
“I’m going to thank God tonight over and over again,” Ebert said. “It wasn’t me, it was Him. There’s something special with what’s happening, the way they’ve taken me in, Butch and Siss (Doug Sisson) and all those guys. They’ve shown confidence and got me back to where I feel like I was two years ago. Right now I’m just kind of soaking in it and enjoying the first win.”
On the mound Auburn starter Cole Lipscomb had a solid first outing, allowing just one earned run on four hits in five innings to get the win. Coming on in relief junior college left-hander Ben Braymer allowed just one hit and one unearned run in two innings while freshman righty Casey Mize finished things off for the Tigers, allowing an unearned run in two innings of work.
While the offense had plenty of reason to smile the same can’t be said for the defense. An early error on outfielder Josh Palacios led to the first run of the game for Sacramento State in the top of the second inning. In the fourth back-to-back walks by Lipscomb put him in a hole before an error on Cody Nulph allowed run number two to score for the visitors. Again in the fifth it was the defense that hurt the Tigers as a leadoff single followed by an error on third baseman Damon Haecker that allowed a single run to score. By the time things were done the error total was seven for the Tigers and while it wasn’t a great thing to see, Thompson feels like it was more of an aberration for his team.
“It was a minor surprise,” Thompson said. “We’ve got the seven errors on the board and I thought we could have completed a couple more double plays. It’s a win. I would rather have that than play great and lose. We’ll take it, but hopefully we got some nerves or whatever that was out of us and be ready to come back and play defense tomorrow.”
Leaving runners on base in both the first and second innings, Auburn finally broke through against talented left-hander Sam Long in the third thanks to newcomer Niko Buentello. Loading the bases after an error allowed Nulph to reach followed by a Grier single and a Daniel Robert walk, Buentello took a two-out fastball and drove it into right field for a double. That scored all three runs and put Auburn up 3-1 early.
One inning later it was time for Grier to do the damage. With Blake Logan on base following a single and two outs, Grier got a pitch to hit and didn’t miss it, driving it over the green monster in left field for just the third homer of his career. The blast put Auburn up 5-2 and in good position for a win.
A happy Anfernee Grier
The Tigers added a single run in the fifth on an Ebert single before two more runs crossed the plate in the sixth. With runners on second and third after a single from Ebert and a double by Palacios, Melvin Gray pushed Grier across before a Robert single through the right side scored Palacio to make it 8-3 Auburn at the time. In the seventh Ebert’s third hit of the day put him on base before he would eventually score on a Nulph single for a 9-4 lead. Yet another error led to a run for Sacramento State in the top of the eighth but not before Auburn’s 10th and final run of the game put this one away and get the first victory for Thompson.
"Before the game I look up and they announce the crowd and I could see people here with a smile on their face excited about us being here," Thompson said. "Then I walked to center field before the game and peered back in because I'm human. I just had a rush of what it's like to be the baseball coach at Auburn.
"This is my big leagues. This is an opportunity of a lifetime. That was really neat to see the opening day banners and everybody show up. To just take it in for a second was neat. I need to be a steward and serve everybody in this program every day. I had a neat moment for myself and that was really cool."
Auburn returns to action on Saturday at 1 p.m. when senior Justin Camp takes the mound for the Tigers in the starting role.