The victory improves the eighth-ranked Tigers to 13-1 overall and Coach Steve Renfroe said this was a win like many others his team has had this season, one earned through perseverance.
"We had two kids that had struggled a little bit," Renfroe said. "I think they would say they hadn't had great at-bats early. They kept fighting and clawing, but that's the way they've always been. They just kept hanging in there and they talked in the dugout. I think Tug (Tug Hulett) got them together. They chatted a little bit and said, ‘Let's keep plugging and we'll find a way.' They did."
While the offense eventually won the game for the Tigers, it was the pitching that was the story of the day for an Auburn team that had struggled on the mound at times this season. Starter Arnold Hughey gave up six hits and three runs in five innings with relievers Michael Nix and Steven Register coming on to close the door against the Rams. They each pitched two perfect innings with Nix getting the win, the first of his career, and Register getting his first save of the season.
Renfroe noted that the pitching was outstanding on a day when the Tigers really needed it to be. "We pitched awfully well from start to finish," he said. "I thought Arnie was good and then I thought Mike Nix was outstanding and I thought Steven was dominating. He just took it up a notch. He had been sitting there waiting to get in a situation like and finally he did. We defended well and it was a pretty solid game."
The game looked like it was going to slip away from the Tigers late in the contest thanks to a scrappy VCU squad that came up with some big hits when they needed them most. With the game tied at two in the top of the sixth, left fielder Joe Meador led off the inning with a double to left field on a 0-2 pitch from Hughey and third baseman Anthony Granato walked to put an end to Hughey's day and bring on Nix.
Michael Nix picked up his first career win.
The hard-throwing right-hander, who was reaching speeds of 92 miles per hour on the radar guns surrounding home plate, encountered some trouble right off the bat as catcher Jeff Parrish reached on a 1-2 count when his bat hit Bell's mitt at the plate for a catcher's interference. With the bases loaded and nobody out the Rams sent up pinch-hitter Barrett Ripley. Nix did his job by getting Ripley to hit into a 4-6-3 double play, but Meador would score to give the Rams a 3-2 lead.
Nix closed the threat from VCU when he struck out first baseman Robbie Gragnani to end the inning.
Despite being down, Nix's efforts on the mound gave his team some life. In the seventh he mowed down the Rams in his second inning and the Tigers came to the plate hoping to do some damage and that's what they did. Bell, looking to get back in the groove he was in to start the season, took a high fastball from reliever Harold Mozingo and drove it over the right field wall for a solo home run to tie the game at three. One out later Jeroloman would have his chance.
Struggling with breaking balls all day, Jeroloman finally got one to his liking from Mozingo and got around on it, sending it over the Green Monster in left field for his second home run this season. The junior said he was just hoping to have a good at-bat after looking bad for much of the weekend.
"I got behind on a couple of good pitches early in the at-bat," Jeroloman said. "He threw some good sliders and a fastball that I fouled off. I was just hunting sliders the whole at-bat because that's what they had thrown me all day. I just missed a few of them, fouled them straight back or popped them up. I finally got one I could handle and hit it out."
That would be all the Tigers would need as Register came on and slammed the door shut against the Rams. Leading 4-3, he gunned down hitters left and right. Striking out three of the six hitters he faced, Register earned his first save of the season as Auburn ran its winning streak to nine games.
VCU struck first as leadoff man Eric Latura walked in the first off Hughey and advanced to second on a balk. A ground ball from Meador got Latura in a rundown between second and third, but Meador would advance to second during the action. One out later the Rams would get on the board as Granato singled up the middle to score Meador and make it 1-0 VCU.
After allowing another single run in the second, the Tigers finally got down to business in the third inning. With one out right fielder Ben Sprague walked. With a full count on Hulett up next, Sprague was off and running with the pitch and scored when Hulett doubled down the left field line. Bell would have the first of his two RBI on the day as he drilled a single up the middle to score Hulett. Tied at two that would set the stage for Auburn's late heroics.
The Tigers had just eight hits on Sunday with Bell and first baseman Derek Sain collecting two hits each. Bell continues to add to his team lead in runs batted in with his 17th and 18th on the season. The Rams were led by second baseman Scott Sizemore's two hits, but the team managed just six on the day.
The Tigers return to action Tuesday when they face Troy State at home. Senior Colby Paxton is expected to get the start in the game as he continues to try to work his way back into the starting rotation. The weekend sees Auburn take to the road for the first time this season when the Tigers go to Clemson for a three-game series. Coach Steve Renfroe said he's hoping to have Ben Maitland back for the series and Karl Amonite sometime in the next two weeks.
"I know Maitland (vision problems due to a foreign substance getting in an eye) is out Tuesday, I know that for sure," Renfroe said. "The weekend is iffy. Right now (Karl) Amonite is still the same, as far as not knowing when. He has started swinging off the tee. He's very sore, but we're getting to that point where we're going to have to try to see what happens. I was encouraged today because he did take some short toss for the first time. We didn't hit yesterday because he was so sore, so tomorrow will be a big day for him. I'm hoping we'll have him back soon or at least try it."