Auburn (25-11, 7-6 SEC) scored two in the seventh and six in the ninth to walk away with the win over a struggling Alabama (22-14, 4-9) team. Auburn Coach Steve Renfroe said it was a tough win because of LeBlanc's outing on the mound.
"We bounced a couple through, but I don't think we ever got to him," Renfroe said. "We battled and I think we were fortunate to get into a count where he had to come to the guy and I thought Kyle Mayo did a great job. We were fortunate to be in a 3-2 count and running, but that's just baseball. That's going to happen. You're going to go right at a number nine guy and he just stepped up big for us today. That kid is as good as we've seen in a long time and we were very fortunate."
Entering Friday night's game, sophomore Kyle Mayo had just 16 at-bats on the season and was hitting a paltry .062 on the year. That didn't seem to phase the Birmingham native though as he came through with two big hits and a sacrifice bunt to help Auburn to the win. Mayo said that he was just doing his job on the biggest hit of the night, a double that scored Auburn's first run and tied the game in the seventh inning.
"It was great," Mayo said of the hit. "It always gets us started and it gets the team going and the team excited. When I scored it just gave us the momentum for the rest of the game.
"It was a lot of fun," Mayo added. "I'm from Birmingham and my family got to come over. It was great to play in front of a big crowd, especially in a hostile environment. I enjoyed it a lot."
Mayo stole the thunder from Auburn starter Mike Felix. Seeking his first win in SEC play, the true freshman gave up just one run on five hits in six innings to move to 3-2 on the season. Felix said that this was a total team effort and he was glad to do his part.
"It was awesome," Felix said. "I came out here to do a job and I did it. I got the team to the seventh inning and got our bullpen in there. Our hitters came through with some base hits to get us to the win. I just had fun. I came out there and wasn't nervous at all. I just went out there and threw it."
Felix and LeBlanc dominated the early going, both sitting down batters left and right. Through four innings Alabama had just three hits while Auburn had collected two, but each team would threaten in the fifth with the Crimson Tide the first to get on the scoreboard. In the top of the inning Auburn first baseman Derek Sain led off with an infield single to put the Tigers in business.
That brought third baseman Mayo to the plate. The replacement for injured Ben Maitland did his job, putting down a perfect sacrifice bunt to move Sain to second base with the top of the order coming to the plate. The execution would be for nothing as Ben Sprague and Sean Gamble failed to deliver with a strikeout and ground ball to end the inning.
Through four innings Felix had been solid, but his own defensive lapse cost him in the fifth inning. Right fielder Michael McCallister led off the inning with a single to right-center and catcher Charlie Lyons came up with a sacrifice on his mind. The only problem was he bunted the ball right back at Felix with plenty of time to go to second for the force. Rushing the play, Felix booted the ball and then wheeled and threw wildly to first. The double error allowed McCallister to reach third with nobody out.
Deciding to test Felix again, Alabama's Brandon Belcher bunted a ball that Felix fielded and tossed to catcher Josh Sullivan just in time to tag McCallister for the first out of the inning. Just as quickly the runners moved up as Sullivan allowed a passed ball with Rocky Scelfo at the plate. The shortstop made Auburn pay as he hit a ground ball to Hulett to score Lyons. An Allen Rice strikeout put an end to the threat with Alabama ahead 1-0.
The lead wouldn't last long as the Tigers broke through two innings later against LeBlanc. For the seventh time this season in 10 starts LeBlanc took a shutout into the seventh inning, but he wouldn't leave the inning the same way. With out one Sullivan reached on an infield single, but Sain struck out to bring Mayo up again in a key spot. Working hard at the plate, he stayed alive on several two-strike pitches before drilling a high fastball deep into the right-center gap. The double scored Sullivan all the way from first to tie the game.
Auburn wasn't through though as Sprague followed Mayo with a single to left field that Gabe Scott had trouble fielding. Mayo scored easily from second and Sprague hustled into second to put another runner in scoring position. Even though Gamble ground out to end the inning it gave the Tigers momentum heading into the stretch run Friday night.
The Crimson Tide made things interesting in the bottom of the seventh with a lead-off single to center field by Zac Welch putting an end to Felix's day. The freshman put his team in a great spot and now it was time for the bullpen to seal the deal. Madden was the first to get the ball and he got two quick outs before walking Belcher to put the tying run in scoring position. That was enough for Renfroe as Register came on to strike out pinch hitter Ryan Beagle to end the threat.
Missed opportunities would come back to haunt Auburn as a golden opportunity came up empty in the eighth inning. With one out Hulett hit a grounder into the hole between first and second that Rice fielded, but threw into the dugout to move Hulett to second.
Bell was next and he continued to struggle, striking out for the second time on the night but reaching first on a passed ball that moved Hulett to third. Following an intentional walk to Thomas Auburn failed to deliver with the bases loaded as Sullivan struck out and Sain's liner into left field was caught by a running Beagle to end the threat.
Auburn added to its lead in the top of the ninth with Mayo once again in the middle of things. Leading off the inning, Mayo singled to left field to bring Sprague to the plate. Bunting to move the runner into scoring position, Sprague sent a ball up the first base line that hopped over Welch's glove and both runners were safe. Gamble continued his hot hitting with a hard single into right field that began a circus of sorts on the infield for Alabama.
Rounding third on the single, Mayo slipped and fell, but Sprague didn't see him until he was halfway to third base. Catching the relay throw, Welch wheeled and threw to second only to throw it short where it hopped into center field. The second error of the inning by Welch allowed Mayo to score and make it 3-1 Auburn.
Following an intentional walk to Hulett, pinch-hitter J.T. Williamson added to the lead with a single into right field to score both Sprague and Gamble.
The final nail in the coffin came off the bat of Thomas. With reliever Seth Johnson struggling after giving up three runs Thomas was looking for a fastball and that's what he got. The left-hander took the pitch the opposite way, driving it over the left field wall for his second home run of the season. Leading 8-1 Auburn coasted to the Friday win.
Saturday left-hander Arnold Hughey will take the mound for the Tigers against Belcher for Alabama. Hughey is 5-1 with a 4.34 ERA this season while Belcher enters at 3-3 with a 3.31 earned run average. The first pitch is scheduled for 4 p.m. and a limited number of tickets remain for the game.