In eight innings the crafty left-hander gave up just three hits and struck out a career-high 12 hitters to shut out the Tigers. He improved to 2-2 on the season while his ERA fell to just 1.64. Auburn's record falls to 26-12, 8-7 in SEC play, while Alabama improves to 23-15, 5-10 in the league. Auburn Coach Steve Renfroe said that was a performance unlike any he's seen this season.
"You just have to tip your hat," Renfroe said. "Last night it was Arnie (Arnold Hughey) and today it was Tankersley. We've faced a lot of good pitchers and I didn't think we could keep seeing better ones, but he just upped it a notch. I think that was as dominating as we've seen in a long time."
Alabama avoided the sweep by scoring early and often against Auburn's battery of right-handed pitching. Starter Josh Bell was in-effective after suffering a bout of nausea during Saturday's game. He tried to go on Sunday, but lasted just one and one/third innings before turning the game over to the bullpen. Renfroe said Bell's short day cost Auburn in the long run.
"We knew there wasn't going to be a lot of runs scored against Tankersley and he just didn't have anything to keep going," Renfroe said. "We got him out of there and it got ugly."
Renfroe chats with Bell and catcher Josh Sullivan during Sunday's game.
Using eight different pitchers to try to slow down Alabama's offensive attack, Auburn gave up 19 runs on 20 hits and also committed four errors. It was the largest shutout victory for either side in series history and the worst loss in conference play for Auburn since losing 21-2 to LSU in 1993, but does nothing to diminish the importance of Auburn's series victory in Tuscaloosa.
While Sunday's game wasn't pretty, Auburn accomplished exactly what it needed to do on the weekend with a series win in Tuscaloosa. Auburn has now won all four series on the road this season while it was Alabama's eighth-straight series loss in SEC play. Renfroe said his team has done its job since losing at home to Kentucky to open conference play.
"It's one loss, but we won a series on the road," Renfroe said. "That's three series on the road in the conference and, of course, at Clemson. We've clawed our way back into the mix and that's what you're trying to do. It's one loss and we'll regroup and go from there."
Alabama got all the runs it would need in the second inning off an obviously weakened Bell on the mound. Leading off the inning, Allen Rice singled and former Auburn outfielder Matt Grooms followed with a single up the middle just out of the reach of both Chuck Jeroloman and Tug Hulett. With runners now on first and third Zac Welch singled to score Rice with the game's first run.
Following a Rocky Scelfo strikeout, catcher Nick Richardson hit a high hopper back to Bell on the mound. Jumping a little too early, Bell mis-handled the ball and everyone was safe to load the bases. An error would cost the Tigers again as Greg Paiml's ground ball to Kyle Mayo was booted to score Grooms from third and make it 2-0 Alabama. Bell's day would come to a quick end when lead-off man Emeel Salem walked to push across the final run of the inning. Reliever Cory Duiett came on to retire the last two batters of the inning.
The Crimson Tide added to its lead in the third inning off Dueitt and Rice was once again at the center of the action. Leading off Rice doubled to right center just out of the reach of Ben Sprague. Grooms quickly moved Rice to third with a sacrifice bunt before a Welch single drove him home. Ahead 4-0, Alabama turned the game over to Tankersley and the senior was too much for the Tigers on this day.
Alabama built onto its lead in the fifth inning off reliever Chris Dennis thanks to a trio of doubles from the middle of the order. Designated hitter Brandon Belcher was first, ripping a fastball off the base of the left field wall. Rice then hit a twisting liner into left field that just landed fair before jumping into the padding of the left field wall for a ground-rule double. Following a walk to Grooms, Dennis' day would come to a quick end in favor of John Madden. That move wouldn't work either as Welch greeted Madden with a long double to center that scored both Rice and Grooms to make it 7-0 Alabama. The Crimson Tide added 12 runs in the next three innings before mercifully the game came to an end.
Junior left fielder Sean Gamble had two of Auburn's three hits on the day while Derek Sain added the other. The Tigers only got a runner to second base one time on the day and never threatened to score. Alabama had three players with at least three hits, with Rice collecting four hits and two runs batted in.
Auburn returns to action Tuesday night at 6 p.m. when they take on South Alabama at Plainsman Park. Next weekend the Mississippi State Bulldogs travel to Auburn for a key SEC Western Division showdown. The Bulldogs lost two of three at home to Florida over the weekend.