Late Inning Heroics Lift Tigers To Victory

Auburn, Ala.–-Auburn's Jeff Boutwell doubled off the left field wall to lead off the bottom of the ninth inning and later scored on a Bruce Edwards single to left as the Tigers broke open a tie game to defeat VMI 5-4 Friday night at Plainsman Park.

The Tigers improve to 13-5 on the baseball season while the Keydets fall to 8-8.

After giving up four runs in the top of the seventh inning to tie the game, Auburn was looking for a spark in the ninth and that meant Boutwell off the bench. A fixture in the lineup all fall and early in the spring, he has struggled this season and lost his starting job in left field.

That didn't keep Slater from going to him in the clutch Friday night and the former Vanderbilt player delivered with a strong double off the monster in left field to put the Tigers in business.

"It felt great," Boutwell said. "Coach told me that if a left-handed pitcher came in I might get a chance to play. They brought in a lefty and I felt good coming in. They sent me out to play outfield first and it was cold so I was able to get loose.

"They brought in the closer (Josh DeMara) on me and he came inside with a fastball. I got the barrel on it and smoked it. It feels pretty good right now because I've been struggling some at the start of the season. Hopefully it will help me out and get me going."

Auburn coach Tommy Slater shakes hands with his brother Andrew Slater at home plate before Friday's game.

Boutwell's double set the stage for Edwards to be the hero in Friday's game. On the shelf last Sunday and for much of the game with a strained groin, the sophomore was summoned into action by Slater in the ninth inning and came through. Down 0-2 in the count he flared one into left field that fell in for a single and scored Boutwell with the game winner. Slater said that it feels good to see guys contribute for the victory from unlikely places.

"What a great at-bat," Slater said. "We got Boutwell in the game when they brought Josh Owens in and I thought he had some good at-bats. Obviously the leadoff double was huge. Once we get the leadoff double we're not going to bunt the guy to third. We're going to take three shots to win there.

"I wanted to get Edwards in to match up against DeMara because Bruce's hands and eyes work so well and he doesn't strike out often. I knew he would put a ball into play and at the very least get us a guy to third base with one out. Bruce just did a great job like Bruce has done all year. He got the bat head to the ball and found a hole."

The victory was a special one for Slater as he recruited much of VMI's current team. The seniors and juniors on this year's team were players that played for Slater while the sophomore class was recruited by him before he left to become an assistant coach at Florida. Add in the fact that his younger brother Andrew is currently a coach at VMI and you have an emotional night for Slater in the victory.

"That senior class was the first recruiting class that really got us turned around at VMI," Slater said. "You saw a senior on the mound in (Duke) Acors and a senior on the mound in Owens tonight, I thought both of them did a tremendous job. Then a senior in DeMara. Owens is amongst the all-time wins leaders there. Acors will be the all-time strikeout leader there in another week and DeMara is close to being the all-time save leader there. Three stud kids.

"Just a very tough, very well-coached and hard playing VMI team," he added. "They did the little things extremely well all night long. We didn't. We need to do those little things better. Overall I was very proud of the club and the way we were able to come back and get the win."

Auburn starting pitcher Arnold Hughey was solid on Friday night, allowing just one earned run and five hits in six innings of work. Hughey threw 86 pitches and struck out a team season-high nine batters on the night.

Reliever Jared Shore had his roughest outing of the year, giving up three hits and two runs in just one/third of an inning. Fellow reliever John Madden got the win, his third of the year, by pitching two and two/thirds innings and giving up just two hits and no runs.

At the plate the Tigers had just seven hits with two coming from leadoff man Tyler Johnstone. First baseman Karl Amonite had one hit and two runs batted in. Shortstop Matt Smith led the way with three hits for VMI and two runs batted in while first baseman Robert Crumpler added two hits.

With the exception of small uprisings in the fifth and ninth inning, the bulk of Auburn's damage came early against the Keydets as the first three hitters for the Tigers reached base and scored.

Johnstone led off the game with a single to left field to bring Thomas to the plate. Getting down 0-2 quickly, Thomas fought off pitch after pitch to eventually work a walk from VMI starter Duke Acors. Amonite then did his damage once again. Taking a fastball the other way, he drilled a double into left field to score both Johnstone and Thomas and give Auburn a 2-0 lead.

Josh Bell was due up next for Auburn and he was hit by a pitch to put runners on first and second with nobody out. Catcher Joey Huskins hit a sharp ground ball to second base that the Keydets turned into a 4-6 fielder's choice. The problem is that the throw from Smith was wide at first, allowing Amonite to score. Gaining an early 3-0 lead Hughey would make that stand up until leaving in the seventh inning.

In the meantime the Tigers added another run in the fifth. Johnstone was again the catalyst, earning a walk to start the inning. The speedster immediately stole second base during a Thomas at-bat than ended in a strikeout. A ground ball by Amonite moved him to third where he scored just moments later on a Bell double to left field. Leading 4-0 Hughey continued to dominate the game for one more inning until the seventh.

Klint Reed led off the inning with a single up the middle and he advanced to second when center fielder B.T. Good reached on a throwing error by Phillip Stringer at third base. That was the end of the road for Hughey on the night as Shore came on in relief. The move wasn't a good one for the Tigers as a run scoring single, an RBIi groundout and a two-run double tied the game before Madden came on to shut the door and eventually earn the victory with Edwards' big hit in the ninth.

Auburn will send junior Josh Sullivan to the mound for Saturday's 4 p.m. start. He's looking for his fifth consecutive strong outing as the Tigers go for win number 14.

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