Tallahassee, Fla.--The Auburn baseball Tigers (37-24) got another dominant pitching performance in the Tallahassee Regional as sophomore Casey Mize struck out 12 in a complete game as Coach Butch Thompson’s team defeated Tennessee Tech 5-3 to advance to Sunday’s regional final. The Tigers await the winner of Sunday’s Florida State-Tennessee Tech loser’s bracket game, which will take place at noon central time.
"Casey Mize, to throw a complete game in under 100 pitches in a college baseball game is amazing," the second-year coach said. "It's really hard to do the math on 12 strikeouts to accomplish that same feat. He was really fresh tonight and just competed his heart out. We needed every pitch, everything that he offered."
At the plate Auburn got some timely hitting to put enough runs on the board for Mize to take them home. Senior Sam Gillikin had a big RBI double for the Tigers early with Luke Jarvis adding a two-run single and Jay Estes putting the finishing touches on the win with a solo home run in the eighth inning. Thompson said they needed everything they could get against a very good Tennessee Tech club.
"We grinded it out enough," Thompson said. "Jay's big home run in the eighth, I know it was huge to be able to go back out and finish a game with a two-run lead instead of a one-run lead. I thought with base running we did a few things that cost us some opportunities, so I thought we could have played offense better but we did get some big hits.
"All in all, I know every player on our team is trying to make something happen and I know they are competing their hearts out. We saw a really good ballclub. We saw three competitive pitchers that competed for Tennessee Tech. This is a team that has already won a conference championship and their tournament. Everybody knows I love their head coach because of the past we have together, but their 2-6 hitters have 300 RBI on the season.
"By comparison, if you look at our 2-3-4-5-6 tonight I think we have 165, an SEC ballclub. We just beat a really good ballclub and we need to be prepared to potentially see them again. That will be a great ballgame in the morning. We'll need to go back and rest up and get ready, but that was enjoyable because it was a high level of baseball played tonight."
For Mize the accomplishment was one he cherishes, but he said for him it wouldn't have been possible without the high level of defense behind him. With Jarvis and Will Holland both making sparkling plays in the infield, Mize said his defense picked him up all night long.
"My defensive play tonight was unbelievable," he said. "Luke, Will, everybody made unbelievable plays behind me tonight. I don't think I have ever seen better plays behind me when I was pitching. My hat's off to those guys and I'm very thankful for those guy picking me up when I made mistakes. Tonight couldn't have happened for me if it wasn't for them."
Luke Jarvis had a big game for the Tigers
Auburn wasted little time getting the scoring started on Saturday night as Jonah Todd led off the game with a single on an 0-2 count before moving to second on a Jarvis bunt. Coming to the plate after a three-hit game against UCF, Daniel Robert smoked a single to right field to easily score Todd but was thrown out at second trying to stretch it to a double.
One of the top home run hitting teams in the country, Tennessee Tech struck back in the top of the second as only they could. Already with 17 bombs on the season, designated hitter Ryan Flick caught a Mize fastball and drove it deep into the trees beyond the right field fence to tie the game at one.
The Golden Eagles would take the lead one inning later and do it all with two outs. Getting the first two hitters in the third, Mize gave up an infield single to leadoff man Alex Junior to bring Tennessee Tech’s leading hitter Travis Putzig to the plate. Taking the first pitch he saw the other way, Putzig’s double put the four-seed in front 2-1.
In the bottom of the fourth Auburn would break out to pull back in front thanks to some clutch two-out hitting.
Leading things off with a single up the middle, Josh Anthony advanced to second on a pitch in the dirt to give the Tigers a runner in scoring position. Following a Blake Logan groundout, Jay Estes walked to bring senior Sam Gillikin to the plate.
Getting ahead in the count 2-1, the Hoover native went with an outside fastball and drove it deep to left field for a double. Anthony scored on the play to tie the game and put runners on second and third with just one out.
Facing reliever Kit Fowler, Will Holland smashed a liner to the left side, but it was gloved by Putzig for the second out. Following an intentional walk to load the bases, Jarvis ripped a single through the left side to score both Estes and Gillikin to give Auburn a two-run lead.
Cruising since the third inning, Mize again ran into some trouble in the seventh and again it came via the long ball. Stepping to the plate with 17 home runs on the season, Tennessee Tech first baseman Chase Chambers smoked a line drive over the fence in right-center for a solo shot. That cut Auburn’s lead to just 4-3, but Mize would come back to strike out the next three hitters to keep the Tigers in front.
Once again Tennessee Tech would threaten in the eighth inning when Putzig singled with two outs and Mize issued his first walk in the last 30 innings to put a pair of runners on base for Flick. Throwing the split-finger, Mize got a ground ball to Jarvis to end the threat and keep Auburn up 4-3.
Jay Estes heads home after his eighth inning homer.
Looking for some insurance, Auburn junior Jay Estes picked the perfect time for his first home run as a Tiger when he launched a 2-0 pitch over the wall in left field in the bottom of the eighth inning to give Mize some cushion heading into his final frame.
Allowing a one-out single in the ninth, Mize struck out the final two Tennessee Tech hitters to preserve the victory.
Auburn will play the winner of Florida State-Tennessee Tech at 6 p.m. central time on Sunday night.