Auburn, Ala.--In a game billed as a pitcher’s duel it was the Auburn offense that stole the show as the Tigers (15-5, 1-0) scored eight runs in the fifth inning on the way to a 14-3 win over the #5 Florida Gators (13-6, 0-1) in the SEC opener Friday night at Plainsman Park.
It was the most runs for Auburn against the Gators since 1997 and the most at home against Florida since 1972.
Moving to 4-0 on the season, Auburn junior pitcher Keegan Thompson allowed just one earned run on three hits in six and one/third innings. On the other side Florida starter Alex Faedo gave up six runs on four hits and walked a career-high six in just four and one/third innings as Auburn hitters time and time again took him deep into counts and put good swings on the ball.
For Auburn Coach Butch Thompson, his pitcher was a story of the game but it was the offensive approach for the Tigers that told the tale against the Gators. Walking just seven in over 26 innings this year, Faedo’s six walks were a product of some good at-bats by Auburn.
“I thought we were really focused on every pitch of the ballgame,” Butch Thompson said. “Keegan and Blake (Logan) calling pitches, they got a curveball going with two strikes, thinking through and reading hitters’ swings.
“I think we got eight walks and had loud outs tonight,” he added. “Will Holland’s big hit was huge. I just think, bottom line, for at least one game that’s the highest focus I’ve seen our ballclub have pitch-by-pitch-by-pitch. It’s a requirement of a great team to be able to do that. I know the Florida Gators and Kevin O’Sullivan and I know we’re coming right back out here tomorrow. We’ll have to continue to have that type of focus to have a chance to win the series.”
Freshman Will Holland went 2-3 with a two-run home run and four RBI to lead a 14-hit attack for the Tigers with outfielder Bowen McGuffin adding three hits. Jonah Todd, Josh Anthony and Jay Estes all added a pair of hits as well for an offense that clicked said Holland.
“1-9 everyone had a great approach,” Holland said. “Focusing on every pitch was really big. We were dialed in and once you’re focused like that you can make anything happen.”
On the mound Keegan Thompson said he was able to settle in with his offense doing so much damage behind him. Getting staked to a 10-run lead in five innings was a huge bonus for him and he said made the game much different for him before he turned things over to freshman Ryan Watson to pitch the final two and two/thirds innings.
“I told some of the guys that I liked the runs but let’s get this thing going,” Thompson said of the big inning for the Tigers. “It’s huge. It just gives me a lot of confidence in our hitters and our defense. It lets me just go out there and throw strikes and let them put the ball in play. You go out there thinking it’s going to be a 3-2 or 2-1 ballgame and it’s just a load of pressure off my shoulders.”
Already in front 3-1, Auburn put the game away with a massive fifth inning outbreak against one of the nation’s top pitching staffs. The inning started innocently enough when McGuffin’s lazy fly ball to left field was overrun by Blake Reese and the Auburn outfielder cruised into second for a leadoff double.
With one out Daniel Robert was hit by a pitch and when Dylan Ingram walked the pressure was on Florida. Facing reliever Kirby McMullen, veteran Blake Logan got the scoring started with a single to left field to make it a three run game and keep the bases loaded. Another hit by pitch, this one by Estes, forced home the second run of the inning to make it 5-1 Auburn.
Yet another walk, this one to Holland, pushed across the third run of the inning but the Tigers were just getting started. Collecting his second double of the night, Todd drove in two more for Auburn. Infield singles from McGuffin and Anthony finished off the scoring as the Tigers took a commanding 10-run lead after five innings.
Florida got a run back in the sixth on an Jonathan India solo home run, but the Tigers responded with two more runs to keep their foot on the gas. With two outs and nobody on the second double of the game for Estes set the table for Luke Jarvis and his single off the glove of Dalton Guthrie at short pushed the lead back to 10. Advancing to second on a throw, Jarvis scored on a Holland single for the 13th run of the game for the Tigers.
Early on the pitching matchup held up with a scoreless first inning for each, but in the second Auburn’s defense allowed the Gators to take an early lead. Playing left field for just the second time this year, Estes couldn’t handle a fly ball and the two-base error put a runner in scoring position for Christian Hicks. With two outs the Florida first baseman singled up the middle to put the visiting Gators in front.
The Tigers would answer back in the bottom of the second and it would be Estes that made up for his mistake. With Ingram on second following a walk, Estes took an inside fastball and drilled it to the wall in left field for a double.
With the score now tied, Auburn came back for more in the bottom of the fourth. Following an Estes walk, Holland stepped to the plate with a chance to do some damage and he didn’t miss his opportunity. Falling behind 0-1, Holland jumped on an inside fastball and launched it over the monster in left field for his second home run of the season.
Now in front 3-1 the Tigers put the game away with the big eight-run fifth inning to open the SEC season in style.
Auburn looks for the series win on Saturday with sophomore Casey Mize on the mound for the Tigers against sophomore Brady Singer from Florida. First pitch is scheduled for 2 p.m. at Plainsman Park.