"We had the right guys up yesterday and the right guys up the night before," Auburn Coach Steve Renfroe said. "They've done it on the road and they did it today."
Things were good for Auburn heading to the ninth inning as they trailed the Bulldogs by just one run, but two runs on two hits by Mississippi State seemingly put the damper on a very lifeless Sunday in Plainsman Park. But, just like they usually do, Auburn made a run at victory in the ninth and this time the Tigers came through.
With one out in the inning catcher Mike Hyntka hit a bloop single to center. Harmless enough at first glance, but following a Kyle Mayo walk Auburn Coach Steve Renfroe said that it was time to play the odds and bring Ben Maitland to the plate. Bothered by an ankle injury for the last two weeks, Maitland came through in the clutch with a single to center field to score Hyntka and cut the lead to two. Hulett said when that play happened the dugout instantly had a different feel to it.
"It's always tough when you give up runs in the ninth inning," Hulett said. "It makes your job a lot harder. Nobody really thought we were out of it, but it got to a point where we were a little down. As soon as we got a little momentum going it just really built after that. Maitland comes up with a huge hit and Gamble comes through in the clutch."
Before Gamble could win the game the Tigers first had to tie it and that came from the bat of Hulett. Up after Maitland's pinch-hit heroics, Hulett was looking for a pitch to drive and got it off reliever Jamie Gant. Driving the ball into the left center field gap, the second baseman rounded second and dove into third base with a triple that tied the game and sent the crowd into a frenzy.
Hulett shows some emotion after sliding in for a triple in the ninth.
"I hit it good," Hulett said. "I knew we were going to get one run out of it either way. Once I saw him running, in my head I was saying three. One out and we already had the tie game. If you get to third it makes the job easier for the guys coming behind me.
"It was huge," Hulett added. "The same game on Friday night was pumping his fist and pointing in our dugout. That kind of stuff will come back to haunt you and that's why I love this team. There is none of that. You just go out and handle your business. We never give up. That's the attitude of this team. That's been a tribute and why we're in so many games."
Immediately behind Hulett was Clete Thomas. Just trying to get a fly ball somewhere in the outfield, Thomas missed the mark and struck out swinging for the second out of the inning. Deciding he wanted to see his best on the field against the heart of the Auburn order, MSU Coach Ron Polk went to the bullpen for Saunders Ramsey. The move backfired as Ramsey, a right hander, walked Josh Bell on four pitches to get to Gamble. From there the junior left fielder said he just fought his way until the hit came.
"Once I saw the third baseman back I was going to drop a bunt down," Gamble said. "I made eye contact with Tug because that's something we could do in that situation, but he threw a ball right there. He threw two fastballs that I fouled back and I had two strikes. All weekend when I had two strikes they threw fastballs away and I've been tapping at them. I was just looking for a fastball low and away and that's what he threw."
Getting a fastball, Gamble guided it through the left side of the MSU infield for a single to score Hulett from third with the game winner. It was Auburn's 11th one-run victory of the season against just six defeats.
Sean Gamble is hugged by teammates Chris Dennis and Josh Bell following his game-winning hit.
The victory came in part because of the fantastic and courageous pitching performance of starter Josh Bell. Recovering from a bout with the flu last weekend Bell has yet to get back to full strength, but didn't let that slow him down any. Throwing 126 pitches, he allowed just three runs on four hits and struck out three Bulldog hitters. Renfroe said the outing was all he could have asked for out of the sophomore.
Auburn grabbed the early lead for a change and it was Bell that helped himself at the plate. With one out in the first Hulett walked. Following a Thomas strikeout Hulett stole second on a 0-2 pitch to Bell, a seemingly meaningless play. That wasn't the case at all as Bell singled through the left side to score Hulett and give the Tigers the 1-0 lead.
State answered back in the top of the second inning with a solo home run by Brad Jones to right field and they would add a single run in both the fourth and sixth innings, the second coming on another solo shot to right. The Bulldogs threatened to put the game away in the seventh inning, but reliever Michael Nix struck out catcher Craig Tatum with the bases loaded to keep Auburn's deficit at two.
The Tigers would get one back in the eighth inning when Bell homered to center field for his 10th of the season. Bell's last home run came way back on April 2 when he went deep in the series opener against LSU. The good feelings wouldn't last for long though as MSU struck for two runs in the ninth that appeared to put the game away.
With one out in the inning Jeffrey Rea walked off Nix to put a runner on base. That would be the end of Nix's day as John Madden came on in relief. Madden immediately hit Steve Gendron to bring big Brad Corley to the plate. Struggling all weekend, Corley ripped a single to left to load the bases with just one out. The lead increased to two when Jones hit a sacrifice fly to center field for out number two. A Tatum single to right field put the finishing touches on MSU's rally as Chris Dennis came on to strike out the final batter of the inning. It was enough to earn Dennis his third victory this season. The loss went to Gant. He falls to 4-5 on the season.
Chuck Jeroloman had three hits to lead the Auburn attack while Ben Sprague, Bell and Gamble all had two hits. Gendron was the only Bulldog with two hits in the game as they had just seven hits on the day.
The Tigers return to action Tuesday night at 6 p.m. when they travel to Birmingham to face the Samford Bulldogs. Next weekend Auburn will face the Eastern Division leading Florida Gators in Gainesville for a three-game series.