Tigers Hang On For Win Against Bulldogs

Starkville, Miss.–-It wasn't a pretty baseball game, in fact it was very ugly, but Auburn will take it. Powered by a three home run inning in the first, the 16th-ranked Tigers defeated number 24 Mississippi State 8-7 to improve to 22-12 overall and 6-5 in SEC play.

The loss drops the Bulldogs to 19-8, 5-5 in conference play. Coach Tommy Slater said the victory was a big one for Auburn, but his team has to play better if it hopes to win in the future.

"We really played uncharacteristically for us today," Slater said. "We did not play with a lot of poise on the mound or defensively. One thing we've done all year long is fill up the strike zone. We jump out to a big lead and we had five walks, which is uncharacteristic of the way we've pitched. Then just a lot of routine errors, even there in the ninth to finish out the game. We just can't have that. The good thing is that we scored enough runs early off their starter and gave ourselves a good enough cushion that we could play through that, but it was really a poorly played baseball game by us with the exception of the early offense."

Despite an up and down day on the mound, junior Josh Sullivan got the win on Saturday. He gave up four runs on seven hits in just five innings of work while walking a season-high five Bulldog hitters. Relievers Jared Shore, John Madden and Michael Nix finished the game off for the Tigers with Nix getting his seventh save of the season. Mississippi State's Todd Doolittle got the loss for the Bulldogs as he lasted less than two innings thanks to the hot hitting Tigers early.

Auburn put its stamp on this game in the top of the first inning. Leading off the game, second baseman Tyler Johnstone singled into left field to bring right fielder Clete Thomas to the plate. Taking a pitch the other way off Doolittle, Thomas' blast just cleared the left field wall for a home run to give the Tigers the early two-run lead. That was just the beginning of the offensive outburst for Auburn in the inning though as more power was to come.

Following a Karl Amonite base-on-balls, catcher Josh Bell stepped to the plate looking to do more damage to the Bulldogs. Getting a high fastball, he pulled it deep into the left field stands for his sixth home run of the season. The blast put Auburn up 4-0 early, but one more was yet to come as left fielder Jeff Boutwell left the yard for the first time this season just moments later and just like that Auburn was up 5-0.

Josh Bell continued his hot hitting with three hits on the day and three runs batted in.

The Tigers continued the onslaught in the second as a leadoff walk to center fielder Bruce Edwards got the inning off to a good start. Following a Johnstone flyout to right field, Thomas hit a ground ball to Jeffrey Rea at second base, but with Edwards on the run the only play was to first. That proved to be a big play as Edwards moved to third on a wild pitch and scored on a Rea error of an Amonite ground ball. With the inning still alive Bell doubled into the left field corner to score Amonite all the way from first and put Auburn ahead 7-0. Despite the big lead Sullivan would find trouble along the way because of an inability to throw strikes.

Leading off the second, Joseph Hunter singled to center field off Sullivan to get the inning started for the Bulldogs. Things looked good for Sullivan as he struck out the next hitter and got Thomas Berkery on a fly ball, but back-to-back walks to Brian LaNinfa and Bunky Kateon kept the MSU inning alive. That's all catcher Tony Easley was looking for as he singled to right field to score both Hunter and LaNinfa and cut Auburn's lead to five. It would be the beginning of a big comeback effort by the Bulldogs in front of over 10,000 fans at Dudy Noble Field.

Both teams escaped scoring threats in the next inning before the Bulldogs cut even further into Auburn's lead in the fourth off Sullivan. LaNinfa again proved to be a thorn in the Tigers' side as he walked to open the inning. One out later Easley again singled to put runners on first and second with one out. Following a Rea fly ball to left, a wild pitch by Sullivan moved both runners into scoring position for Jeff Butts. A walk to Butts brought Brad Corley to the plate, who singled to right field to score two and make it 7-4 Tigers.

The Tigers gone one run back in the fifth as Boutwell walked to start the inning and Josh Donaldson followed with a single to left field to give Auburn two baserunners with nobody out. It would take a Bulldog error to score for the Tigers though as both Adam Stacey and Bruce Edwards failed to get the ball out the infield, keeping the runners where they were. Following a Johnstone walk, Thomas hit a grounder to the first baseman that was bobbled. The error allowed Thomas to reach and Boutwell to score Auburn's eighth run of the game.

With Shore coming on for Sullivan to start the sixth the Bulldogs failed to score again until Madden came on in the seventh. Auburn's top reliever this season, Madden was hurt by shaky defense by the Tigers in the inning. With one out Jones singled to center to bring Berkery to the plate. With the runner moving, Berkery hit a ground ball to Donaldson at third base. Making a bad throw that Amonite knocked down but couldn't find, Donaldson's error allowed Jones to move all the way around to score. That was just the start of a terrible defensive inning for the Tigers.

LaNinfa was up next and he singled to center field. The ball got through Edwards in center field and rolled all the way to the wall for a three-base error that scored Berkey. A Kateon walk was followed by an Easley groundout to Johnstone at second to score the third and final run of the inning. Leading just 8-7 Auburn would try to hold on to what seemed like a sure victory just a few innings earlier, but it would take some help from the Bulldogs in the ninth to put the game away.

With Nix in the Bulldogs went down in order for the first two outs of the inning and seemed to be out of luck as LaNinfa hit a sharp grounder to Stacey at short for what appeared to be the final out of the game. It didn't happen that way though as Stacey's throw short-hopped Amonite at first base for Auburn's third error of the game. Still alive Kateon singled to right field sending LaNinfa to third. Sending a throw all the way to Donaldson, Thomas' aggressiveness gave Kateon the idea to try to advance to second base. Donaldson came up with the ball and threw a strike to Johnstone to easily retire Kateon at second base to end the game.

The two teams will play the third game of the series Sunday afternoon at 1:30 as both teams hope to keep pace with first place Alabama in the SEC's Western Division. Auburn is TBA on Sunday as Shore, Cliff Mullins, Josh Blake and a host of others are expected to get action on the mound for the Tigers. Mississippi State will send Jon Crosby to the mound. Crosby is 4-1 with a 3.38 ERA.

Box Score

"We'll probably start Shore tomorrow," Slater said. "We'll take a look at it tonight, but it will either by Shore or Mullins. More than likely Shore. He only threw nine pitches and he's always better the second day. It was an efficient outing, nine pitches and three outs. I think Shore will be a good guy to get us into the game tomorrow.

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