Knoxville, Tenn.--Needing a big performance from freshman Davis Daniel on the mound, the 10th-ranked Auburn Tigers got a special day as the Montgomery native allowed just three hits and struck out five in eight innings on the way to an 8-1 victory on Saturday. At the plate Jonah Todd continued to set the table in the leadoff spot, going 4-5 as the Tigers pounded out 11 hits to secure the series win vs. the Vols.
With the victory Auburn improves to 27-11, 10-5 in SEC play and keeps the Tigers within a game of first place Arkansas with the Razorbacks traveling to Plainsman Park next weekend for the SEC West showdown.
Throwing 45 pitches in the first two innings as he worked out of trouble, Daniel settled in and was dominant over his last six innings as he needed just 56 pitches to get through eight innings before turning things over to Ryan Watson to pitch the ninth. Even though Watson allowed a solo homer in the ninth, the day couldn’t have gone much better in game three for Auburn as they get a big bounce back victory on Saturday.
“It’s hard to go back and fight for the first two days because the first game could have gone either way and yesterday could have gone either way,” Coach Butch Thompson said. “All you’ve got is today and these moments. I just thought our team was loose and confident at the beginning because we’ve been through this so much.
“I thought before the game we would play well today if Davis could get off to a good start. He grinded early but once he got a little bit of a lead, and it just felt like we were going to keep scoring. We kept extending the lead and it allowed Watson to come in with that 8-0 lead and finish the ballgame.
“All the way around it was one of our better-played games, maybe our best-played game on the road as a complete team effort.”
Coming off of one of his better performances of the year last week in a loss at Texas A&M, Daniel entered Saturday’s start with the confidence that he was ready for life on the road in the SEC. After struggling early, he said he was able to settle in and one thing really made the difference for him.
“I think it was really just getting the fastball down in the zone and getting a lot of ground balls,” Daniel said. “The guys turned a few double plays behind me and were making some good plays. Getting contact early was big.
“I think the main goal is just coming out and throwing a lot of strikes. A situation like this and coming off two days where we didn’t swing the bats great and balls just weren’t falling, I knew the guys were going to come out swinging. The main goal was just to throw a lot of strikes and keep us in the game.”
In addition to Todd’s big day, Auburn got a pair of hits and three runs scored from Jay Estes with Dylan Ingram added a three-run homer and Bo Decker a solo shot for the Tigers.
Going three up and three down each of the first three innings, Auburn’s offense found the rhythm against Tennessee starter Zach Warren the second time through the order starting in the fourth inning.
Leading things off, Todd singled and scored on a Estes double to put the Tigers on the scoreboard first. Moving to third on an error by the left fielder, Estes scored moments later on a Daniel Robert single and just like that it was 2-0 Auburn.
With Daniel settling in on the mound the Tigers went back to work in the fifth to add to their lead. Back in the lineup this week after missing five weeks with an ankle injury, Decker got a pitch to drive and didn’t miss it. His bomb to left field put Auburn in front by three, but they weren’t done in the frame.
On first with two outs after reaching on a fielder’s choice, Estes moved to second on a wild pitch with Robert walking to bring Conor Davis to the plate. Coming off an 0-4 day on Friday, the freshman delivered with a single to score Estes and give Auburn a 4-0 lead.
In the seventh the Tigers again did some damage at the plate and once again the home run was part of the plan. Back-to-back singles by Todd and Estes again set the plate for Auburn’s offense, but two outs later they were standing on second and third when Dylan Ingram stepped to the plate.
Moments earlier Davis hit a fly ball that should have been deep enough to score Todd from third, but he didn’t tag. In the end it didn’t matter.
Really struggling for much of the last month, the big first baseman took an 0-1 pitch deep over the wall in left field for his second big fly of the week. The blast gave Auburn a commanding seven-run lead to work with heading to the bottom of the seventh.
The Tigers added to the lead in the top of the eighth but missed a golden opportunity to break things wide open. Leading off with an infield single from Luke Jarvis with Damon Haecker hit by a pitch and Decker walked, Auburn had the bases loaded and no outs for the top of the order.
Continuing his huge week, Todd singled through the right side to score Jarvis and make it 8-0 Auburn. With the opportunity to do even more damage the Tigers instead got mowed down by reliever Will Neely as he struck out Estes, Robert and Davis to leave the bases loaded.
Pitching a scoreless bottom of the eighth, Daniel turned things over to Watson in the ninth to finish off the victory.
Auburn returns to action Tuesday night when the Tigers travel to Kennesaw State for a 5 p.m. central time start vs. the Owls.