After giving up a run in the top of the inning, Auburn scored two to win the game and improve to 10-2 on the young season. Coach Tommy Slater said while his team got the victory the game wasn't one to remember because of some poor play in all phases by his team.
"We're very fortunate to win the game because we didn't do the little things well at all tonight," Slater said. "We made a lot of mental mistakes and didn't situationally hit well tonight. If you look at the board 17 hits and eight runs is not the way we play. That's not as good offensive night. That's not a productive offensive night. We were not good with runners in scoring position. We couldn't get any bunts down until the end there and we made base running mistakes. We were very fortunate to win the game."
Locked in pitcher's duel since the fourth inning when Elon scored two runs to tie the game at six, neither team had been able to put anything on the board as Auburn relievers Jared Shore and John Madden sparred with Elon's Patrick Adams to keep things scoreless. That lasted until the top of the 12th inning, when the Phoenix scored a run to take the lead on a Drew Davis single to center field off reliever Michael Nix.
Fortunately for Auburn a base running mistake by Elon kept the advantage at just one heading into the bottom of the inning and gave the Tigers some momentum. With one out and runners on first and second pinch hitter Chris Price drilled a fly ball deep into left field that Auburn's Derek Sain ran down. Both Elon runners were past the second base bag when the ball was caught and the Tigers eventually turned the double play to end the inning. Johnstone said that play gave the offense some life as they prepared to come to the plate.
"We had a big play by Sain making the catch to end the last inning," Johnstone said. "That had us pretty pumped up. Then Bruce (Edwards) got the walk. Coach told me I was swinging away and I just got a good pitch right over the middle of the plate. I just tried to drive it the other way."
Edwards led off the inning by earning a walk from Elon reliever Kevin Regan. Up next, Johnstone was swinging away instead of bunting and the move paid off for the Tigers as the second baseman drilled a triple into right center to score Edwards all the way from first to tie the game. With Clete Thomas and Karl Amonite up next Elon didn't take any chances, walking both to load the bases for the middle of the Auburn order. It worked once when Josh Bell popped up for the first out of the inning, but Sprague was determined to end the game.
Adam Stacey has been a key player for the Tigers this season. A regular third baseman, he played shortstop Friday night and had a career-high four hits.
He had already been up in this situation earlier in the game. With the score tied in the ninth inning and Bell on first base with a leadoff single, Sprague failed to get the bunt down. This time he said he wasn't sure he was the one for the job, but in the end he got it done with a perfect bunt down the first base line to score Johnstone with the game winning run.
"I came up the first time to sacrifice and I couldn't get it down," Sprague said. "I was pretty nervous. Coach came up to me (in the 12th) and asked if I could get a push bunt down. To be honest with you I had to think twice about it, then I said ‘yes, I can do this'. Fortunately enough he gave me a pitch out and away and I just pushed it right towards first base. I did what I was supposed to do. I came up twice tonight in big situations with the bases loaded. The first time I couldn't capitalize on it, but the second time I made sure I got it down. Luckily for us it turned out the way we wanted it."
Elon got on the board first with a run in the opening inning, but Auburn responded with two runs of its own to take the lead. Johnstone led off with a flared double just inside the right field line and advanced all the way to third on an error by the Elon right fielder. He scored just moments later on a Thomas single to right field. Amonite continued the barrage for the Tigers with a single up the middle to push Thomas to third with still nobody out. Auburn's right fielder later scored on a wild pitch, but that's all the Tigers would get as the bases were left loaded on a Josh Donaldson pop up to the catcher.
Auburn would open up the lead in the second and once again Johnstone was the catalyst for things. With one out in the inning he reached on an infield single. Following a Thomas walk, Amonite drilled a long single off the right field wall that scored him from second and sent Thomas to third. Following a Bell strikeout true freshman Russell Dixon singled up the middle to score Thomas. Stacey came through with a single of his own to score Amonite and the Tigers' last run scored when Dixon crossed the plate on a wild pitch. Leading 6-1 Auburn appeared to be in good shape, but Elon wasn't throwing in the towel.
The Phoenix came back strong, scoring three in the third inning and two more in the fourth to tie the game at six. Third baseman Matt Hill led off the third with a single and moved to second on a sacrifice by Gary Morris. Davis singled as well to bring hot hitting Evan Erickson to the plate. He came through with a triple to left center that scored both runners and cut the lead to three. He would later score on an error to make it 6-4 Auburn. The game would be tied in the fourth as both Hill and David had run scoring hits to bring the Phoenix all the way back from a five-run deficit.
Auburn on the other hand was stymied by Adams. On for Elon in the third inning, he didn't give up a run in six innings of work and kept his team in the game until the very end. The Phoenix did survive a scare in the 10th inning though as a mental error by Edwards kept the game from ending early for the Tigers. Leading off the inning by reaching on an error, the speedy Edwards moved to second one out later on a single by Thomas and appeared to be in easily for the game winner when Amonite singled to center, but he failed to slide when crossing the plate. The umpire ruled he didn't touch home plate and Edwards was tagged out for the second out of the inning. Elon got the final out, but the Tigers would get the last laugh in a thrilling 8-7 win.
In addition to Johnstone, Stacey had four hits for the Tiger as they totaled 18 on the night. Also getting multiple hits was Amonite with three and Thomas with two. Erickson had three hits to lead the Elon attack along with Hill. Nix picked up the win for the Tigers, pitching one inning and allowing one run on one hit. Madden pitched five innings for Auburn and gave up just two hits and no runs. Auburn starter Arnold Hughey gave up six runs on six hits in four innings of work.
Auburn faces Elon for the second game of the series Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m. when junior Josh Sullivan takes the mound for the Tigers.