The senior catcher continued his strong start by going 4-for-5 with three runs batted in including a home run and a double. With a team dependent on every player to pull his weight the entire season to be successful, Pratt said this is exactly the type of start this team was looking for coming into the 2002 season.
"We are going to be a team," he said. "Like you saw today, we didn't swing the bats as good as we did yesterday, but we scored. We bunted and did all the little things right to win today. That's what this team is all about. We're going to get after people, we're going to scrap. Hopefully, people are going to hate to play us because we're going to do all those little things right."
Totaling 12 hits and allowing the Rams just nine in return, the Tigers again controlled the game from start to finish. Starting pitcher Cory Dueitt pitched five strong innings, allowing just five hits and two earned runs, to pick up his first win of the season. After spending most of last season as a reliever and emergency starter, the Hoover native said that he believes he'll enjoy being a regular starter this season.
"I got my first game jitters out of the way," Dueitt said. "I thought the first inning I didn't have command and I wasn't myself out there and I felt it. We talked about it in the dugout when I came back and I got composure and kind of settled down in the second inning."
While Dueitt was getting into the flow of a new season on the mound, the Tiger hitters continued their hot start. Once again it was the second inning when the fireworks would erupt in Plainsman Park. Freshman Matt Grooms started things off with a single through the right side and Josh Todd moved him all the way to third base after a sacrifice bunt to the third baseman forced a wild throw to first and Auburn had runners on second and third with no outs.
Up next, freshman shortstop Chuck Jeroloman had a veteran at-bat as he took an outside pitch to right field for a sacrifice fly that scored Grooms and moved Todd to third. After a Jonathan Schuerholz walk, starting pitcher Sean Marshall balked trying to pick him off and Todd was allowed to score and Schuerholz moved to second to put another runner in scoring position. Javon Moran followed with a single of his own through the left side that was mis-played by the left fielder, allowing Schuerholz to score and Moran to advance all the way to third. Sean Gamble added a double down the right field line with the next at-bat before Pratt would close the scoring with a single to left that scored Gamble. When it did the carnage was complete Auburn led 5-0 and would never be seriously threatened.
VCU would make some noise though as a two-run inning in the fourth caused some slight nerves among the 3,466 fans in attendance Saturday, but that would be alleviated quickly by the Tiger bats. In the bottom of the fourth, a Pratt double scored Schuerholz after he had reached on a double of his own. In the fifth Todd belted a 2-2 fastball over the monster in left for the first home run of the season and Auburn had a 7-2 lead. Both teams would add two more runs to close the scoring at 9-4 Auburn.
"We don't have a classic lineup," head coach Steve Renfroe said following the win. "We're going to have to spread it out a little bit. We don't have your Todd Faulker, Gabe Gross or Mailon Kent. These are middle of the lineup guys. We have to try to put a lineup together where we can do something each inning. Maybe it will be something different that we do, try to run or bunt or hit the other way. The encouraging thing to me was they scored and we scored. Usually that comes down to the type of kids you have and that was fun to see."
The game took on a special meaning for Auburn in the eighth inning as Ken Clayton took the mound for the first time in a college uniform. This in itself is an accomplishment for the Marietta, Ga., native considering he almost died on this very field just over one year ago from a line drive to the face during an intra-squad game. Holding on to a 9-4 lead, he allowed just one base runner on a walk and retired the Rams only to be greeted by a standing ovation from the crowd. In the ninth he retired the side to close the game and was awarded the game ball by Renfroe and the team
"This was probably the greatest feeling I have ever experienced in my entire life," Clayton said. "I'm still shaking. This is unbelievable. When I walked out and the crowd was cheering I about got tears in my eyes. It's the greatest feeling in the world."
Auburn and VCU meet for the final game of the weekend on Sunday afternoon as Colby Paxton will face either Davy Martin or Matt Prendergrast. Paxton was 5-4 last season for the Tigers with a 4.06 ERA. Martin was 7-2 with a 5.56 ERA while Prendergrast was 2-1 with a 4.93 ERA. The first pitch is scheduled for 1:30 p.m.