"Baseball is baseball and we've done it to a lot of people by coming back," Auburn Coach Steve Renfroe said. "You get that early out, but then he couldn't stop the bleeding. They hit the ball hard. You have to tip your hat to them. They got the hits they had to have to win it."
Coming back from five runs down early in the game, the Tigers found themselves tied at six heading to extra-innings on Tuesday. Just like he had done all night, right fielder Ben Sprague got things going for the Tigers in the 10th with two outs by singling to left field. That brought Tuesday's star Sean Gamble to the plate. On fire all night, Gamble singled to right field on a hit-and-run. Never breaking stride, Sprague got to third and was waved home by Renfroe. South Alabama outfielder Ben Froemming couldn't handle the play cleanly, allowing Sprague to score and Gamble to cruise into second base.
Tug Hulett then did what he does best, earning a walk to bring J.T. Williamson to the plate. On for the Tigers late in the game to replace Derek Sain in left field, who moved to first, Williamson jumped on the first pitch he saw and drilled it into the gap in right-center to score both Gamble and Hulett and give Auburn the three-run lead, but it wouldn't be enough on this night.
With one out in the 10th pinch-hitter Kevin Williams drew a walk from Nix and that opened the floodgates as Tim Land singled to bring the tying run to the plate. Shortstop Guillermo Martinez singled home Williams to cut the lead to just two and a walk to designated hitter Brad Gordon loaded the bases. Nix stepped up to strike out pinch-hitter Michael Cart, but Lind was just too much. Already with three hits on the night, he ripped a double into left-center field that cleared the bases and gave the Jaguars the victory on a night when both teams fought back time and time again.
"We couldn't close it out," Renfroe said. "We've got a guy in there we feel good about. He got an out, but they got the hits and they put it to him. That kid swung it well. That's all you can say."
Already without projected starters Karl Amonite and Tyler Johnstone this season, the Tigers played without sophomore catcher Josh Sullivan for much of last weekend's series with Ole Miss because of a neck injury. The news got even worse on Tuesday night as both Chuck Jeroloman and Ben Maitland missed the game with South Alabama because of injuries. Jeroloman has a lingering wrist injury that he suffered on Sunday in Oxford while Maitland sprained an ankle during warm-ups for Tuesday's game. Both are expected to be fine for the weekend trip to Tuscaloosa, but it left Auburn very thin for the South Alabama game.
"We had a lot of guys out and some guys in there playing hurt," Renfroe said. "We were concerned about trying to get some guys ready for the weekend. Sean has been playing hurt for a long time. His legs are really bad, but he gutted it out at DH and I needed him. The kids played hard, they really did. We just have to get rid of this and try to get ready for the weekend."
With a makeshift lineup in place, the Tigers got off to a rocky start with starter Cory Dueitt on the mound. In the first the senior got the first two Jaguar hitters before Adam Lind singled to right to get the rally started. Following a walk to Josh Touchtone, South Alabama took the lead for good in this game when Quendon Montgomery doubled to left-center to score both Lind and Touchtone.
Leading 2-0, USA would come back for more in the third inning off reliever Mike Felix. In his first relief appearance of the season Felix wasn't sharp at all when he entered the game in the third inning. Lind led off the stanza with a double to right-center and another walk to Touchtone set the stage for Montgomery to again inflict some damage. He did just that as an infield single scored Lind to give the Jaguars a 3-0 lead. Following a strikeout, Jansen Rayborn singled to left to score Touchtone and send Montgomery to third. A walk to Tim Land signaled the end of the day for Felix, bringing Chris Dennis on. The sophomore got just what he wanted with a ground ball, but the Tigers were unable to turn the double play, allowing another Jaguar runner to score. The inning came to an end with a fly ball, but not before USA had built a 5-0 lead.
Auburn finally got on the board in the fourth when Gamble led off with a double into left-center field to open the inning. Following a ground ball by shortstop Hulett to advance Gamble to third, Josh Bell singled up the middle to push Gamble across and cut the lead to 5-1. South Alabama would get the run back in the bottom of the inning thanks to an error by Dennis, but the Tigers would strike for more in the fifth.
With one out in the inning Sprague reached on an error and Gamble again doubled, this time pushing Sprague across with Auburn's second run of the game. Hulett earned a walk and, after a Bell strikeout, Thomas singled to right field to score Gamble and make it 6-3 South Alabama. The Tigers would come back for more just two innings later.
Leading off on Tuesday, Sprague came through with a single to center to begin the seventh and a red-hot Gamble followed with a single to left field. Hulett made it three-in-a-row with a single of his own that scored Sprague. After a Bell strikeout Thomas walked to load the bases, but Sain struck out as well to bring catcher Mike Hyntka up. The junior college transfer did his job by working a walk to score a run and third baseman Kyle Mayo did the same to score Hulett and tie the game at six. That set the stage for a dramatic ending in the Port City.
The top of the Auburn order did much of the damage Tuesday night as Sprague, Gamble and Hulett combined for 11 of the Tigers' 15 hits on the night and scored all nine runs. Gamble was especially tough with five hits and four runs scored. Relievers Dennis and John Madden were very good for the Tigers, giving up just three hits and one run in five two/thirds innings of work Tuesday night. Lind led the way for USA with four hits while Montgomery, Rayborn and Land added two hits each.
Auburn returns to action this weekend when they travel to Tuscaloosa to face arch-rival Alabama in a three-game series.