While Williamson's hit was the story of the game, the pitching from Auburn was outstanding on a day when they really needed it. Starter Josh Bell kept the Tigers in the game in his first start and reliever John Madden came on to hold Kentucy at bay in the middle innings. Both set the stage for closer Steven Register, who pitched four innings and allowed three hits and one run. The outing was the longest of Register's career, who says this was a big victory for his team and especially sweet the way it happened.
"We knew the way they were stalling that it was going to be the last inning," Register said. "It was going down the wire and "Nails" stepped up and did his job. We named him that in the fall because he just gets after it. He doesn't have much size, but he'll give you all he's got."
It looked like Auburn was headed for the first tie game in Plainsman Park history on Sunday when they went to the bottom of the 10th tied at two with Kentucky and just 10 minutes remaining until the 3:30 p.m. travel curfew kicked in. That meant an inning could not start after that time, giving Auburn one last shot to get the job done.
A former leadoff hitter that has moved into the four hole, Clete Thomas got the inning started with a single to center field and quickly stole second base off Kentucky reliever James Rodriguez to move into scoring position. Shortstop Chuck Jeroloman then did his job with a ground ball to the right side to move Thomas to third with just one out. Jeroloman tied a career high with three hits on the day.
With a runner on third and Josh Sullivan up the Wildcats decided to intentionally walk to catcher to bring the double play into position. The only problem was that Derek Sain was due up next and he was working on a career day with three hits already. That made Kentucky's decision easy as they intentionally walked him as well to face the light-hitting Williamson. Hitting just .258 before the at-bat, Williamson made the Wildcats pay as he drove a 1-2 fastball deep into right field to score Thomas with the game winner and cause a mob of teammates to jump him after he rounded first base.
"It was a fastball and I did exactly what I was trying to do," Williamson said. "I was just trying to get a fly ball and get a run in. I was just playing base-to-base baseball. I was actually looking just one zone. I wanted something up so I could get it in the air. He was working me down early in the count, but once he got ahead he started going up and I finally got one.
"This win was huge," Williamson added. "The last two days have been just horrible. I have hardly been able to sleep they have been so bad. Today was just huge. We needed that bad. That was everything, getting off on the right foot and winning it like we did was good too, scratching and fighting to get runs."
In need of a solid performance out of the starting pitcher, the Tigers got just that by Bell on Sunday. Mixing in a powerful slider with a good fastball, Bell kept the Wildcats off balance and gave Auburn a chance to salvage a victory in the Sunday game. In his longest career outing, Bell allowed just four hits and one run in five and one/thirds innings. Auburn Coach Steve Renfroe said that was just what the doctor ordered for a team searching for some life.
"Josh Bell gutted it out," Renfroe said. "For a first start, he walked a lot of guys, he gutted it out and pitched well. We had to have that. It was one of those, we knew most teams aren't going to sweep. There are only two teams left that have a chance to sweep. So you're within one game of most everybody. That's how we have to look at it."
For a change Auburn actually got on the board first in the series as lead-off man Sean Gamble tripled to the gap to get some good vibes flowing in Plainsman Park. Second baseman Tug Hulett then did his job by hitting a ground ball for an out to allow Gamble to score from third. Not to be outdone, Kentucky came back with a run of its own in the top of the second on a solo home run by John Shelby into center field, but that would be all the damage Bell would allow before exiting in the sixth.
Josh Bell pitched well in his first career start for the Tigers.
The Tigers wouldn't fare much better off Kentucky starter Craig Snipp as they failed to get anything going until the sixth, when they took the lead back from the Wildcats. With one out Jeroloman doubled down the left field line, his second hit of the game. Sullivan them came through with a single through the left side that scored Jeroloman to give the Tigers the 2-1 lead. First baseman Sain then followed with a single of his own through the left side, but that would be all for Auburn as reliever Jeff Archer came on to retire the next two hitters and keep the lead at one.
Renfroe decided three innings wasn't too much to ask of Register and put him on the mound to start the seventh after John Madden kept the Wildcats scoreless in relief of Bell. The move didn't pay immediate dividends though as Stewart hit a long wind-blown home run to center field in the seventh to tie the game at two and making for an exciting ending before Auburn came away with the victory.
The Tigers take the show on the road for the next five games, beginning with a Tuesday contest at UAB at 7 p.m. Next weekend Auburn will travel to face red-hot Tennessee in Knoxville for a three-game series.