Trailing 3-1 heading to the bottom of the third, the Tigers exploded for four runs with the big blast a three-run home run coming off the bat of Mike Mueller. Leading 5-3 after the inning, the Tigers would open up the lead from that moment and cruise to the 11-5 win behind the pitching of starter Levale Speigner. He got the win for the Tigers despite an average performance at best. Having trouble finding the plate for much of the early going, he was never really able to settle into the game before a crowd of 2,695 at Plainsman Park.
"You have to give a lot of credit to ‘Vale,'" Todd said. "He started off rough, but kept battling and stuck with it and we were able to give him some runs so he could relax a little bit more."
Early on it didn't seem like that would be the case for Speigner as Marshall battered the ball for the first three innings, scoring a single run in each. The big blast for the Herd came off the bat of catcher Gregg Hiller, who drilled a first pitch fastball deep over the center field wall for a home run in the second inning for Marshall's first round-tripper of the season.
Auburn would answer back in the bottom half of the second when a Todd single up the middle scored Huddleston from second to make the score 2-1. The Herd would add another run in the third to make it 3-1 after two and a half innings of play.
Bobby Huddleston slides into home with Auburn's first run in Friday's game.
Auburn would once again answer and answer big as the Tigers began the bottom of the third. Javon Moran reached on a throwing error from the shortstop to begin the inning but was caught stealing to give the Tigers one out in the inning. Tug Hulett was next up and walked on four pitches to put the pressure on Marshall starter Grant Harper. Following a Trent Pratt pop up to second for the second out of the inning, things got going and the Montgomery connection of Matt Grooms and Huddleston was the reason. Back-to-back hits by the duo set the stage for the play of the game as a single by Huddleston to center sent Hulett from second and a perfect throw from Marshall's Bryce Woods to the plate had a play on Hulett. But Hiller, Marshall's catcher, forgot one thing, the ball. Executing a perfect slide, Hulett dislodged the ball from the mitt and the score was now 3-2.
That play brought Mueller to the plate. Known for his power from the left side, Mueller had earlier lined out hard to the right fielder, just missing a home run. This time the Wisconsin native didn't miss. Waiting for a 3-2 change-up, he lifted the ball high into right field and it easily made its way into the visitors' bullpen for a home run and a 5-3 Auburn lead.
"It was a 2-2 count and I knew he was going to be throwing me an off-speed pitch with first base open," Mueller said. "Then when it was 3-2 and he still threw me a change-up I was a little bit out in front of it but I just got enough on it to get it out of here."
The Tigers continued to add to the lead over the next three innings as a Pratt single scored Hulett in the fourth. In the fifth a Huddleston double to lead off set the stage for Todd, who drilled a home run deep to left center that bounced back into play off the brick façade of the scoreboard, making the score 8-3.
After a solo shot by Marshall in the top of the sixth, Auburn would add two more runs in the bottom of the inning to open up a 10-4 lead. Both teams would add single runs in the eighth to make the final 11-5 Auburn in the series opener.
In a change, sophomore Eric Brandon was inserted into the set-up role in Friday's game. Struggling in his last outing in the closer's role, the hard throwing Brandon came on in relief of Speigner to start the seventh inning and looked much better than he had in recent outings. Allowing just a solo home run in three innings of work, Brandon looks to be moving closer to becoming a starting pitcher once again with the continued development of Kenny Clayton in the bullpen as well as the return of true freshman Steven Register from arm problems. Register, a Columbus, Ga., native, could see action as early as Saturday and gives Renfroe an even deeper bullpen in which to pull from for the remainder of the season.
"We've got to stretch him out," Renfroe said of Brandon. "The other day he just hadn't thrown many pitches. Eric is used to being a starter and we're going to stretch him out. Kenny Clayton is so good in the pen right now. If Kenny is legit, then you have options. Steven Register comes off the shelf tomorrow and if he steps up and shows out there what he's shown us everywhere else then he's a guy that can close for us. Now what you do is you line your best guys up and say, ‘Alright, who's best suited for what role?'"
The same teams return to action Saturday at 2 p.m. when Cory Dueitt makes the start against Rick Suter for Marshall. Dueitt is 1-0 on the season with an ERA of 3.60 while Suter is 0-1 with an ERA of 13.50.