Bell Delivers In Clutch As AU Takes Series Opener

Josh Bell's two-out double to left in the 10th scored Chuck Jeroloman to give Auburn the victory over LSU.

Auburn, Ala.--Too many times closer Steven Register has been the saviour for the #8 Auburn baseball Tigers. Friday night his teammates turned the tables on him as Josh Bell's two-out double to score Chuck Jeroloman in the 10th inning helped the Tigers overcome a blown save in the ninth to earn a 7-6 victory in the first game of the series. It is the first time since 1995 that Auburn has won the series opener against LSU and it moves Auburn to 21-7 overall and 4-3 in SEC play while second-ranked LSU falls to 22-5, 4-3 in league play.

"All the wind was out of our sails," Bell said after the game was tied. "We really had to pull ourselves up because that was a big blow right there. We thought we had it, but they just took it away and we had to battle again. I'm glad our guys stepped up to the challenge and won."

With the game tied at six and one out, Jeroloman came to the plate against LSU reliever Jordan Faircloth hoping to just put the ball in play after striking out three times on the night. Getting a pitch he could handle, the junior drilled a single into left field to bring center fielder Clete Thomas to the plate. Deciding against letting Thomas hit against the right-hander, LSU went to the bullpen for lefty Greg Smith. It proved to be the right move for a moment as he struck out Thomas looking, but Bell said he couldn't have been happier to see someone other than Faircloth on the mound. "That right-hander was nasty," Bell said. "He should be in the major leagues right now."

Not the speediest of runners, Jeroloman got his lead off first on a 0-1 pitch to Bell and took off at the ping of the bat when Bell drilled a fastball to the opposite field. LSU's Jon Zeringue broke back on the ball that carried to the wall and almost made an acrobatic catch before the ball bounced off the warning track and against the fence. Rounding second and heading for third Jeroloman appeared to be in for clear sailing, but struggled to get to the plate ahead of the relay throw from Blake Gill.

Josh Bell swings away against LSU Friday night.

Sensing the play was going to be close, Jeroloman slid to the outside of home plate. His heads-up play allowed him to slip his hand onto the plate just ahead of the tag from catcher Matt Liuzza. Mobbed by his teammates after scoring the run, Jeroloman said he was just running as hard as he could to get to the plate. "Once I hit here (rounding third) it felt like I just hit a wall," Jeroloman said. "I didn't think he tagged me, but I got my hand in there and I saw the ball come in late. I knew I was going to beat it.

None of that seemed like it would be needed earlier as Register entered the game for reliever John Madden in the eighth inning and Auburn ahead 6-4. Coming on for starter Mike Felix, who did a good job in holding LSU to just four runs on six hits in four and two/thirds inning, Madden was superb in his most important outing of the season. The junior gave up just one walk in two and one/third innings before turning the game over to Register.

"We pitched very well against the most explosive team we've seen in a long, long time," Auburn Coach Steve Renfroe said. "I think you have to credit Mike Felix for hanging in there. They can tattoo you in a hurry and John Madden was just super."

After escaping damage in the eighth things looked good in the ninth as Register struck out Liuzza and got the second out of the inning following a double by J.C. Holt to open the inning. That's when LSU made their presence felt one last time. Jumping on a 1–0 fastball, Clay Harris drove the pitch deep into right field and the ball carried over the wall for a two-run home run to tie the game and send the sizeable LSU contingent into a frenzy.

Auburn would make a run to win the game in the bottom of the ninth, but a two-out single by J.T. Williamson came up empty with first baseman Derek Sain on second base. With one out Sain singled off Faircloth and moved to second on a bunt attempt by Ben Maitland. That set the stage for drama as Williamson hit a grounder into the hole at short. Diving to his right Derek Hebert put a glove on the ball and kept it from getting to the outfield.

Rounding third Sain got the green light from Renfroe, but held almost halfway down the line. His hesitation forced him into a rundown before he was tagged out to end the inning. Renfroe said that is a play they were forced to make because of the situation.

"You have to try to score there and we stopped," Renfroe said. "It's just one of those things where we're rounding the runner because if you don't and hold him and it trickles through, in that situation you have to get another two-out hit. He was leaving his feet and had to make a big league play. I just gambled on it getting through."

LSU wasted little time in introducing Felix to their talents as Ryan Patterson singled to left field to get the first started and one out later Liuzza drilled a single to left to bring junior college transfer Nick Stavinoha to the plate. The former Houston football player did his job as a clean-up hitter with a hard double to left that scored Patterson with the game's first run. Harris then flew out to Clete Thomas in center to easily score Liuzza and make it 2-0 LSU after just a half inning of play.

After Felix sat down the Fighting Tigers in order in the second, striking out the side, Auburn got one run back in the bottom of the inning thanks to the long ball. Leading off, designated hitter Bell took a Meier fastball deep over the center field wall for his ninth home run of the season. With the lead back to one Felix went back to work looking to keep his team in the game against the powerful LSU attack.

Mike Felix struck out five in four and two/thirds innings of work.

Patterson again led things off for the Tigers and he reached on a controversial play when, after much discussion among the umpires, home plate ump John Whitaker awarded him first base on a ball in the dirt that he claimed hit him in the foot. That proved to be costly for Auburn as Patterson moved to third with two outs before a Stavinoha single pushed him across. Trailing 3-1 Auburn was looking for something positive and it came in the fourth.

With two outs and nobody on, Maitland hit what at the time seemed like a harmless single into the left field, but it started an Auburn rally as right fielder Williamson followed with a double off the monster in left field to score Maitland and cut into the lead. Sean Gamble continued his strong play against LSU with a triple to right field that was just out of the reach of Zeringue. The hit scored Williamson to tie the game, but the Tigers weren't done.

Jeroloman was next up for Auburn and he lifted a shallow pop-up into right field that Gill drew a bead on. Unfortunately for LSU he didn't come up with the catch as he whiffed on the play to allow Jeroloman to reach and Gamble to score. Back-to-back singles by Thomas and Bell scored Jeroloman with the inning's final run to give Auburn a 5-3 lead heading to the fifth.

LSU finally put an end to Felix's day in the fifth, but the strong pitching of Madden would be the story for Auburn. With runners on first and third following a single and a walk, Harris singled to score Patterson from third to cut Auburn's lead down to just one. With two outs in the inning Felix walked Zeringue to load the bases and send Renfroe to the pen for Madden. A junior college transfer, Madden fell behind Will Harris 3-1 before coming back to get the strikeout and end the threat. That proved to be a huge play as the game eventually went into extra innings before Auburn walked away with the win.

Box Score

Saturday's 3 p.m. start at Plainsman Park will have Arnold Hughey on the mound for Auburn facing freshman sensation Clay Dirks for LSU.

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