Fleet Clete Leads Tigers To Victory Over Rams

Clete Thomas scored four runs and Auburn's 1-5 hitters accounted for 10 hits and eight RBI in Auburn's 9-3 victory over VCU Friday night.

Auburn, Ala.--Friday's game was billed as a battle of starters with Auburn's Cory Dueitt squaring off against Virginia Commonwealth's Justin Orenduff, but the story of the game turned out to be the hitting of Clete Thomas as the Tigers defeated the Rams 9-3 in the series opener. Thomas finished the day 4-5 with four runs scored and Tug Hulett, Josh Bell and Sean Gamble added two hits each as Auburn opened a tough series in impressive fashion.

"Clete really got us started," Renfroe said. "He had great at-bats. He got on base and I thought he put a lot of pressure on with his wheels. Then we just had big at-bats. Tug came up big and Chuck Jeroloman. I just thought we had good approaches. We put a lot of pitches in him early and we all thought that was the key. We did that and got a couple of big hits.

"Cory battled," Renfroe added. "He didn't have his great stuff or control, but he battled through it and got us to Mike (Nix). I thought Mike was outstanding. That's what we need there. We need that guy that we know we can go to and get us to Steven (Steven Register)."

Since being inserted into the leadoff role five games ago Thomas is hitting .500 with 12 runs scored and a .542 on-base percentage. To put those numbers in perspective Auburn's opponents have scored just 16 runs during that span. Thomas has also added seven stolen bases during that time.

"I'm in the leadoff role again and my job is to get on base and make something happen," Thomas said. "That's what I'm trying to do. For the most part I feel more comfortable there because that's where I've hit all my life, but I'll hit wherever they need me to hit."

Cory Dueitt gave the Tigers another quality start in Friday's win over VCU.

Picking up his second win of the season, Dueitt allowed three runs and six hits in six innings Friday night. He struck out two and walked two in what he admitted wasn't his best performance. Still he got the job done and turned the ball over to a solid bullpen. Nix was dominant, pitching two perfect innings of relief before turning the ball over to Chris Dennis in the ninth to shut the door.

"I knew that if I gave our guys a chance to get him (Orenduff) out of the game and I was still in there then we would be all right," Dueitt said. "I was thinking to myself that if we could just get a lead that I would battle and get it to our bullpen. I was glad we came out and got the lead like that. I got it deep enough into the game where Mike came in and did a great job and Chris came in and threw a good inning. It was good for us."

Hot in his leadoff role, Thomas got things started with a roar in the bottom of the first as he drilled a double down the right field line to get the first hit of Orenduff, something they didn't do a lot of last season when they faced him. It looked like the double would be all for nothing as both Ben Sprague and Hulett struck out, but Thomas would steal third in the process to get 90-feet closer for Josh Bell. It wouldn't matter in the long run as Bell singled up the middle to score Thomas and put the Tigers up 1-0 and send Dueitt to the mound with the lead.

The Rams answered back in the second when first baseman Kyle Atrat led off the inning with a single up the middle. Right fielder Trai Harris hit into a fielder's choice and reached first with one out while Atrat was retired at second base. Following a Scott Sizemore single, catcher Jeff Parrish delivered the big blow of the day for VCU with a double into deep left-center field to score both runners and give the Rams the lead for the first time.

Catcher Josh Bell had three runs batted in on Friday and leads the team with 16 this season.

Down 2-1 the Tigers struck again in the third inning with Thomas once again getting things energized by reaching on an error with one out. Sprague was up next and he earned a walk to bring Hulett to the plate. One of Auburn's best contact hitters, Hulett pushed a double into left-center that scored Thomas from second to tie the game. Bell then delivered once again, singling up the middle to score both Sprague and Hulett for a 4-2 lead.

After VCU chipped away at the lead with a single run in the top of the inning, the Tigers would add another run in the bottom of the fifth and Thomas was once again in the middle of things. Leading off the inning he singled to left and advanced to second base on an error by Orenduff. As he tried to pick Thomas off first he threw the ball away to move Thomas up a base. Sprague then bunted Thomas over the third and he scored moments later when Hulett singled into right field. Ahead 5-3 the game was turned over to Dueitt and the Auburn bullpen the rest of the way.

In the top of the seventh the Rams would put an end to Dueitt's day after a leadoff walk in the inning. That brought in Nix, a junior college transfer that originally signed with the Tigers out of Auburn High. The powerful righty quickly showed what he was made of with two ground ball outs before striking out a VCU hitter looking to end the inning.

Auburn put the game away in the bottom of the seventh thanks to a big inning from the bats and some help from the home plate umpire Danny Everette. Designated hitter J.T. Williamson walked to get the inning underway and Renfroe inserted Bruce Edwards in his place as a pinch-runner. That move didn't appear to be a good one just moments later as Thomas ripped a long fly ball into left field that fell for a base hit. Instead of cruising into second Thomas would remain at first because Edwards froze, unsure of whether the ball would be caught or not.

Then came the controversy of the inning. With runners on first and second, Sprague put down a bunt that just came to rest on the first base line outside of the batter's box. Despite the fact that his foot appeared to hit the ball on his way to first, the umpire ruled his safe and the bases were loaded with nobody out. Following a sacrifice fly by Hulett and an intentional walk to Bell, Gamble put the game away with a long double into right-center that scored both Thomas and Sprague. Bell would score moments later on a Jeroloman sacrifice fly to left to give the Tigers a commanding 9-3 lead.

Nix and Dennis slammed the door shut for the Tigers with solid innings in the eighth and ninth to put the finishing touches on the win. Auburn had 11 hits in Friday's game, 10 of which came from the top five batters in the lineup. The only player in the bottom of the lineup to have a hit was first baseman Derek Sain.

Box Score

The injury bug continues to bite the Tigers as third baseman Ben Maitland got something in his eye that damaged it Thursday night. Renfroe said that the doctors said he would likely miss all of this weekend's action, but could return when the Tigers travel to Clemson next weekend. Josh Sullivan will likely see most of the action at third base in Maitland's absence along with Kyle Mayo.

Auburn and VCU will resume the series with game two on Saturday. The first pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m. with Mike Felix getting the start for the Tigers against for VCU's Cla Meredith. Felix is 1-0 with a 3.75 ERA this season while Meredith is 1-0 with a 1.29 earned run average.

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