Columbia, Mo.--Down 9-5 and with their backs against the wall in the series opener at Missouri after allowing a seven-run inning, the Auburn Tigers answered back in a big way to get a big 11-9 victory thanks in large part to the relief pitching Ben Braymer. Entering the game to start the fifth, the junior pitched the final five innings and allowed just two hits while striking out a career-high 11 batters to get the victory.
The win improves Auburn to 15-15 overall and 3-7 in SEC play and gives them some much needed confidence after winning the first game of a conference series for the first time this year. Coach Butch Thompson said this win was all about confidence and that was the name of the game entering Thursday’s game.
“We’re at a point where if you want to be a good ballclub you’ve got to be confident in every phase,” Thompson said. “With our pitchers I told them I wanted to trust them more. We probably went five or six hitters more than the game told you to do (with starter Cole Lipscomb), but I’m really focused on trying to get the trust of our players.
“It was the same thing with Ben when he came in the game. I kind of stayed with that commitment for an entire ballgame. For me the difference in the ballgame was we played crazy offense the entire game.
“No doubt a team victory. I thank our players for trusting me with doing something different with the game. We were more focused on us and really played it out tonight. It led to a victory, which is huge, and gives us a chance or two more chances to win a series. That’s huge.”
At the plate Niko Buentello’s solo home run in the top of the eighth was the game winner for Auburn as it broke open 9-9 game to put his team in front for good. After striking out four times on the night, junior Anfernee Grier tripled home Melvin Gray in the ninth to give Braymer an insurance run as he slammed the door on an important victory for Auburn.
Gray led the Tigers with four hits and a pair of runs scored while Jordan Ebert added three hits and scored two runs as well. On the mound starter Cole Lipscomb allowed six earned runs on 10 hits in just three and two/thirds innings, but it was the pitching of Braymer that saved the day for Auburn.
“My mindset coming in after we scratched a couple of runs back was to just give the team a chance,” Braymer said. “Coach talked about trust and we really trusted ourselves tonight all across the board, the players, everything, and it showed.
“I think my fastball worked very well for me tonight for the most part,” he added. “I was able to locate it pretty well and I was fortunate enough to have some bad swings and for them to chase it up in the zone.”
Trailing 9-5, Auburn didn’t quit despite allowing seven runs to Missouri in the bottom of the fourth inning as Buentello and Blake Logan singled to start things. Following a Damon Haecker groundout to score Buentello, Gray tripled over the head of the center fielder to score Haecker all the way from first. When Kyler Deese singled back up the middle to score Gray, just like that it was 9-8 and from that point forward it was all Auburn.
“That was a really big at-bat by Niko getting the leadoff man on,” Gray said. “That was big. That just boosted everybody back up. They put up seven and we come back in and get the leadoff man on. We just were going base-to-base handing it to the next guy.”
Adding a single run in the sixth to tie things up, Auburn leaned on Braymer and he continued to put up zeros on the board, allowing Buentello to do his damage in the top of the eighth. With one out and facing Cole Bartlett, Buentello got a pitch to drive and didn’t miss it. His bomb over the wall in center field put Auburn back in front 10-9. In the ninth Gray’s fourth hit of the game gave the Tigers a runner on base. He eventually moved to second with two outs for Grier and Auburn’s leading hitter came through in the clutch, slicing a triple down the right field line to score Gray for the game’s final run.
Things started well for Auburn on a cold Thursday night as Grier singled to open the game and moved to second on a Palacios bunt. Up next, Ebert hit a ground ball back to Missouri pitcher Reggie McClain, but his throw sailed down the first base line for an error. That allowed Grier to score and Ebert to advance all the way to third. He scored on Buentello ground ball with the next at-bat to make it 2-0 quickly.
It didn’t last long however as Missouri answered back after Lipscomb allowed a hit to lead things off and hit the second batter in the bottom of the first. After coming back to get the next two hitters the junior left a pitch over the plate to Trey Harris and the Missouri left fielder made him pay with a two-run single to tie the game.
Auburn struck again in the second with Daniel Robert blasting a double off the wall in center field before a Gray single to put runners on the corners with nobody out. A Deese single and a Cody Nulph groundout pushed both runners across to make it 4-2 Auburn. Gray’s second single of the game in the third scored another run to give Lipscomb a three-run lead to work with heading to the fourth, but it wouldn’t be Auburn’s inning.
In the top half singles by Palacios and Ebert with two outs gave Auburn some life as it brought Buentello to the plate with a chance to extend the lead. He wouldn’t get the chance however as Palacios was thrown out trying to steal third to end the inning and give Missouri the momentum.
They would make Auburn pay thanks to some very shaky defense on the infield to start the bottom of the fourth. Errors by Robert and Deese put the first two hitters on base for Missouri. The second came on a throw to first that forced Robert into the runner. He would leave with an injury, but that wasn’t the worst part of the inning for Auburn.
A single and a fielder’s choice added the first two runs of the inning for Missouri before a double tied the game. They were just getting started however as three more hits, including a pair of triples, added four more runs for the home team to give them a commanding 9-5 lead. That wouldn’t be enough on this night as Auburn came back for the huge win.
Senior Justin Camp gets the call for Auburn on Friday night as he will square off against Missouri ace Tanner Houck in a 6 p.m. start. The game can be seen on SEC Network+.