Offensively the tandem of Josh Bell and Clete Thomas were the stars of the day for the Tigers with two RBI each. Bell had two hits, including his second home run of the season. Thomas had a double and a sacrifice fly on the day to help with the offense. The Tigers had 12 hits and held the Catamounts to just six hits for the day. Coach Steve Renfroe said that the performance of Paxton was a memorable one considering the conditions.
"I thought under the circumstances his performance was real good," Renfroe said. "Again we pitched out of a couple of jams. He got into one and got out of it. He made a really nice play up the middle and Ben Maitland made a great play later and we had a big double play. I thought we pitched very well and defended well. We had a lot of different guys in there. You lose Chuck Jeroloman, the best shortstop in the league, and one of the best power hitters in America (Karl Amonite) and guys just stepped up. These are new kids that have never played and I'm proud of them."
Colby Paxton delivers a pitch in Sunday's win.
The newest Tiger also played a big role in the victory on Sunday. An outfielder by trade, former Auburn football signee Bruce Edwards started at second base and had a solid game both offensively and defensively. Unable to join the team until just before the start of this semester, he hasn't played baseball in over a year, but Renfroe said that he is beginning to show why he was highly-thought of on the diamond last season in addition to his football exploits.
"He hasn't played in a year and has only been with us three weeks," Renfroe said. "He's out there everyday doing something positive. We're excited about him. We'll take the day off tomorrow and hopefully try to heal some guys up. Hopefully we'll have Chuck back next week and hopefully Karl in two or three or four weeks get him back."
The Tigers wasted little time getting going on a brutally cold day at Plainsman Park. With one out in the first Ben Maitland got things going with a single up the middle off WCU starter Brandon McDowell. Subbing for injured Chuck Jeroloman at shortstop, Tug Hulett followed with a single of his own up the middle to put runners on first and second with nobody out. Designated hitter Josh Bell was next and he followed the lead with sharp single to left that loaded the bases with still just one out.
Center fielder Clete Thomas, who has been unlucky this weekend on several hard hit balls, drilled a deep shot to right field that center fielder Matt Nelson ran down on the warning track. The shot allowed Maitland to score from third and Hulett to advance to third with two outs. Left fielder Sean Gamble finally got off the hitless wagon with a single up the middle to score Hulett from third to make it 2-0 Auburn after one inning of play.
With Paxton cruising on the mound Auburn opened up the lead in the bottom of the third with Thomas delivering the big blow. Bell led off the inning and was promptly hit by a pitch to bring Thomas to the plate. Sitting on a fastball, he drilled one deep into the gap in left-center that had Bell on the run. Rounding third Bell raced for home, and despite being beaten by the ball to the plate, made a perfect slide to score. The throw to the plate allowed Thomas to move to third with nobody out. One batter later Josh Sullivan drilled a double into the left field corner to score Thomas and give Auburn a 4-0 lead. That's all that Paxton would need on a day when he survived despite not having his best stuff.
Thomas drills a pitch to drive hom one of Auburn's six runs on Sunday.
"Their pitching was pretty good overall," Thomas said. "Some of the guys didn't throw that hard, but it was effective. I just had to sit back and try to go opposite field with everything. It was tough. It's a lot harder to hit than somebody throwing 95 miles per hour. It helped us though because we're going to see a lot of lefties this year. Alabama is probably going to throw all lefties at us and some other teams. It was good practice for us."
That was never more evident than in the top of the sixth inning. With two runners on, one of which reached after being hit by a pitch, Paxton did something out of character for him when he hit catcher Denver Edick to load the bases. Battling to the end, Paxton got center fielder Matt Nelson to fly out to Gamble in left field for the third out of the inning, putting an end to his day on the mound. Paxton has now thrown 15 consecutive scoreless innings, dating back to a complete game shutout against Clemson in last year's NCAA Regional in Auburn.
"There's no question I like to get the ball when it's warm, but if you get out there and get your blood flowing it's not too bad," Paxton said. "I really wasn't that cold getting into the game. The conditions weren't ideal, but their guy had to pitch in the same conditions I did. You just have to learn how to pitch. I didn't think it was a great outing. I didn't throw my breaking ball like I wanted, but I was able to locate my fastball. It was encouraging in that respect."
Auburn would add to its lead in the bottom half of the sixth thanks to the long ball. With one out Hulett singled up the middle and stole second with Bell at the plate. Instead of being careful with Bell the Catamounts challenged him at the plate. He delivered in a big way, driving one deep over left-center field wall for his second home run in as many days. Leading 6-0 Auburn would cruise to the victory despite a scare in the eighth.
With Chris Dennis on the mound for Paxton, WCU got a rally going in the inning when pinch hitter Bryan Bowles doubled to left field to give the Catamounts some life. Third baseman Chris Davis followed with a single to right field to put runners on the corners with just one out. That was enough for Renfroe as he brought on John Madden to stifle the rally. A ground ball pitcher, Madden got Jared Greenwood to hit a ground ball to Bruce Edwards at second base. The freshman turned and fired to Hulett at second to start an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play that sealed the game for the Tigers. Bell came on in the ninth inning to slam the door on the 6-0 victory.
The Tigers are off until next weekend when they take on the Boston College Eagles in a three-game series at Plainsman Park. Game times for the weekend are 3 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday and 11:30 a.m. on Sunday.