Auburn, Ala.--Moving up a day in the rotation in place of Keegan Thompson didn’t bother Auburn sophomore Casey Mize as he struck out 12 in his first career complete game as the 17th-ranked Tigers (22-6, 6-1) defeated #6 South Carolina to take the first game of the series.
Up 5-0 after three innings, Auburn held on thanks to a pair of stellar defensive plays by second baseman Will Holland another huge play by shortstop Luke Jarvis in the top of the ninth. Battling with South Carolina starter Will Crowe tooth and nail, Mize walked off the mound a winner in the ninth and said the first words he got were from his roommate Keegan Thompson.
“He said ‘who is Keegan Thompson’,” Mize said. “He said ‘we don’t need him’.”
On this night he was right, but Mize didn’t do it alone. Getting help from a big two-run double off the bat of Josh Anthony and those big defensive plays, Mize was able to finish it off and Coach Butch Thompson said he earned the right to do just that.
“It was a game of inches on both sides,” he said. “Just both sides, honestly I didn’t know which way that game was going to go. We were up a run and I was like ‘Casey Mize has been here all night competing his heart out he deserves it’. I’m proud of him.”
Leading by a run in the ninth and already at 108 pitches, Mize gave up a single off his glove to give South Carolina some momentum. Facing Carlos Cortes, he left a ball over the plate that the South Carolina DH deposited into left field. That moved Jacob Olson to third, but Auburn left fielder Bowen McGuffin gunned down Cortes at second for the first of three big defensive plays in the ninth for the Tigers.
The second would come from Jarvis at short. With the infield drawn in, Madison Stokes hit a smash to the left of the Auburn shortstop that he smothered. Looking the runner back to third, his throw to first recorded the second out.
Before that at-bat Coach Butch Thompson reminded Mize that South Carolina would probably bunt if he pitched from the wind-up, but with two outs he wasn’t thinking of that when T.J. Hopkins squared and laid down a bunt towards third base. Coming off the mound, Mize fielded the ball and threw a strike to secure the win and send the sellout crowd of 4,096 into a celebration.
“I probably shouldn’t pay attention to this but Auburn has to go prove the Florida series wasn’t a fluke,” Mize said. “Coming out and beating the number six team in the nation we beat the number five team in the nation, it’s big. Auburn can do this. It wasn’t just a mess-up and Auburn doesn’t have to rely on one pitcher. We just find ways. It kind of sets a tone and makes people realize this team can do something. It’s huge for us.”
Auburn got the scoring started early with a productive top of the first. Leading off, Jonah Todd hit a sharp ground ball to Jonah Bride at third base but his throw was high allowing the leadoff man to reach for the Tigers. On the first pitch he saw Jay Estes hit a liner into left for a single to put Auburn in business.
Following a Jarvis line drive right at the right fielder, Robert worked a walk to load the bases with one out to bring Conor Davis to the plate. The freshman didn’t respond well with a three-pitch strikeout for the second out, bringing Anthony to the plate.
Before Anthony could put the ball in play the Tigers would score a pair of runs however as Crowe uncorked a wild pitch to allow Todd to score from third. When catcher Chris Cullen’s throw got by Crowe at the plate Estes scored as well to put the Tigers in front 2-0.
Jay Estes scores the second run in the first inning for Auburn
Two innings later Auburn was back for more. With one out Jarvis singled to give the Tigers some life and when Robert sliced a single to left it put runners on the corners. Getting a walking lead, Robert stole second for his sixth swipe of the year to give Auburn a pair in scoring position.
Following a Davis ground ball that retired Jarvis in a rundown, Anthony jumped on the first pitch he saw and lifted a double off the wall in left-center. Both runners scored to give Auburn a 4-0 lead and when McGuffin singled through the right side the Tigers were up five.
Cruising through four innings, Mize finally ran into trouble in the fifth when Olson and Cortes both singled to put the pressure on. A ground ball to the right side scored Olson to put the Gamecocks on the scoreboard but they were just getting started.
Mize gave South Carolina some life with a one-out walk in the sixth before Alex Destino and Cullen both singled to load the bases with one out. It looked like Mize would get out of the jam when Tolbert hit a ground ball right at Jarvis at short. Instead of an easy double play the ball bounced off his glove. He still managed to get the out at second, but a second chance proved to be all the Gamecocks needed as two more singles cut the Auburn lead down to one.
That’s when Holland would come up big. Moving to his left on a Stokes ground ball, Holland scooped the ball and fired to Robert just in time to get the runner and end the threat to keep Auburn in front.
A pair of strong innings from Mize set him and the Tigers up for the drama in the ninth as they took home a big Friday night win over the Gamecocks.
The Tigers and Gamecocks return to action on Saturday at 5 p.m. in a game that can be seen on ESPNU. Freshman Davis Daniel takes the mound for Auburn against South Carolina ace Clarke Schmidt.
Tiger Ticket Extra: Normally Coach Butch Thompson gives out a game ball or maybe two after a win, but on Friday night he gave them all to Casey Mize and that meant the entire bucket. Following a short postgame talk with his team Thompson dumped an entire bucket of balls on Mize after his performance in the victory.