Auburn, Ala.--Coming off the worst performance of the season on Thursday night in an 11-4 loss to Tennessee, the Auburn Tigers needed something positive to happen in game two of the series and Butch Thompson’s team got that and more from senior starter Justin Camp. Pitching a complete game and allowing just two hits while striking out seven, Camp led the Tigers to a 2-0 win over the Vols on Friday night to even the series and improve Auburn to 16-19 on the year and 4-10 in SEC play.
“The old adage is you’re only as good as your next day’s starting pitcher,” Thompson said. “After that first inning in Missouri last week, Camp’s thrown the ball really well, but tonight’s about a good a game thrown in the Southeastern Conference, especially after being in a game two situation where you play your worst game of the year and bounce back.
“You could just tell when he got to that fifth, sixth, seventh inning, wherever you’re sitting in the park—whether you’re in the dugout or in the booth or in the crowd—that he might finish this thing. You could just sense that he was that good tonight. He threw a fastball for two different speeds, got a ton of ground balls.
“The slider was for a strike. Usually the breaking pitch for a college pitcher is a strike about 40-45 percent of the time; I would imagine he was 65 percent or north of 70 percent were just strikes. He had the one walk, and they got three guys that are knocking on 50 RBI and he just did a great job of taking the sting out of their swing.”
With his complete game performance in the win Camp has now gone 15 straight innings without allowing a run and 17 innings without allowing an earned run. It was the first complete game shutout for an Auburn pitcher since Dillon Ortman in 2014 and one that Camp said was needed for his team.
“It was huge,” Camp said of the win. “Last night was a disappointment. We didn't play good, we had errors, we didn't really pitch that well. They always talk about you need something to turn around quick and I think today was it. It was almost like a must-win situation and we showed up.”
That started right out of the gate as Camp worked around a one-out single in the top of the first to put up a scoreless inning for Auburn. That was a big deal for the Tigers after Thursday night’s disaster of a first and set up his offense to give him all the runs he would need on the night.
Auburn’s offense all came in the bottom of the first inning as Anfernee Grier and Melvin Gray both singled to start things off before Jordan Ebert walked to load the bases with nobody out. Following a Niko Buentello strikeout, Blake Logan came to the plate for the fifth time in the last three games with the bases loaded.
Unlike the first four times, Logan delivered with a single to put Auburn up 1-0 and give the Tigers the early lead. When Gray scored on Damon Haecker groundout it was a two-run advantage and all that Camp would need on this night.
Blake Logan had Auburn's biggest hit of the night with a run scoring single in the first inning with the bases loaded
Retiring 13 consecutive batters starting with two outs in the first inning and 12-straight to end the game after allowing a bunt single in the fifth, Camp allowed just three total baserunners in a dominating performance for his third win of the year. Throwing strikes and working quickly, Camp got the benefit of some great defense behind him, something he said was huge to see.
“Unbelievable defense,” Camp said of Auburn’s second error-free SEC game of the year. “They played outstanding. It seemed like every time I turned around they were making another diving play or coming in on a slow roller. When you got guys playing like that behind you it makes it a whole lot easier to pitch.”
With 106 pitches through eight innings and rolling along, Camp said he wasn’t sure how hard he was going to have to lobby Thompson to get his shot to finish things off in the ninth. A stickler for pitch counts, Thompson said this game was all Camp’s. That was big for the Decatur native and he made the decision a good one with a perfect ninth inning to seal the deal.
“It was pretty important,” Camp said. “I knew my pitch count was probably getting up there. I didn’t know really what it was, but when you have an outing like that you want to go finish it, especially a shutout. You kind of want to go after it.”
With the series now tied and the chance to win the first SEC series of the year coming on Saturday when sophomore Andrew Mitchell takes the mound for the Tigers in the 1 p.m. start, Thompson said he was proud of the way his team responded following the ugly loss on Thursday.
“It’s about emotions and human nature and the whole nine yards,” Thompson said. “My job is to keep finding solutions. I come here in a time where I’m just here to keep building these guys up. I’ll continue to do that. I think they can share in this. I think this is like running your own show.
“It’s one of those where I give all the credit to my players. I think they wanted to play hard for Auburn tonight. I think they wanted to play hard for themselves tonight after last night. That’s not coach speak or building them up, that’s just the quality of those guys and they wanted to come up and fight tonight.
“You could see it in the dugout, you could see it on the field, on the mound, all around our program. Hey, we need more nights like that. This was my proudest moment to see how they bounce back and had resolve.”