Catcher Joey Huskins had two singles and three runs batted in for the Tigers on a night when both Coach Tommy Slater and catcher Josh Bell were tossed from the game when it was still in doubt. Slater said the win was big for his team as they did what they had to do to get the victory.
"I was proud of the way the guys responded," Slater said. "The guys did a tremendous job offensively. It's not always easy in a game like this with the strike zone and the way things were, but our guys did a good job offensively and put up a 12-spot in a Tuesday night game."
On the mound the combination of starter Clarence Nicely and relievers Jared Shore, John Madden and Michael Nix did a solid job against the scrappy Bulldogs. Madden (5-0) picked up the win with 2 1/3 innings of work, allowing one run on five hits with two strikeouts. Nix earned his eighth save of the year with two and two/thirds innings of one-hit ball.
Following some early trouble and several seeing-eye singles in the fifth, the Tigers dominated the late innings to come away with the win. At the plate the hitting star was Huskins. Thrust into playing when Bell was ejected, the junior college transfer responded with two clutch hits for the Tigers in the win.
"Joey did a tremendous job of coming in," Slater said. "He's been working hard. We spent some extra time yesterday at practice trying to make a couple of adjustments. We got his hands up a little bit and got some flex in his knees. I think it paid off for him tonight."
Auburn got on the board first Tuesday night thanks to Jeff Boutwell and the middle of the Tiger order. Leading off the second inning the junior college transfer singled to left field to bring freshman Russell Dixon to the plate. Dixon followed with a single of his own to give the Tigers some life.
The single moved Dixon to third, which was a big play for Auburn as Samford starter Bear Burnett uncorked a wild pitch that scored Boutwell with Josh Donaldson at the plate. The true freshman third baseman earned a walk from Burnett to put runners on first and second with still nobody out, but a failed bunt attempt by Adam Stacey cut the rally short as Bruce Edwards followed with a pop to third and Tyler Johnstone flew out to center field to end the inning.
Boutwell again came up big for the Tigers in the third inning as they added another run against the Bulldogs. With two outs and nobody on, Karl Amonite walked to bring Boutwell to the plate. With five hits in his last six mid-week at-bats, Boutwell was looking for something to drive and he got it on the first pitch. Jumping on a fastball he sent it deep over the head of the Samford left fielder for a double. The hit scored Amonite from first and gave Auburn a 2-0 lead.
Michael Nix earned his eighth save of the season in the victory over Samford.
After cruising through the first three innings, Nicely would see his night come to an end in the fourth inning. Leading off for the Bulldogs John Morgan doubled just inside the third base bag to give the Bulldogs some life. Matt Alling followed with a double of his own, this one to right field, to score Samford's first run of the game. Following a strikeout the Bulldogs came up big again as Burnett helped himself with a single to score Alling and tie the game at two.
In the fifth is when the fireworks occurred in this game as Auburn took the lead back, but also lost two key figures for the rest of the game. To open the inning Clete Thomas hit a bomb over the left field wall for his sixth home run of the season.
The Tigers weren't done though as Bell doubled off the left field wall to extend his hitting streak to a career-high 15 games. Amonite was hit by a pitch and Boutwell walked to load the bases with nobody out. It looked like the beginning of a huge inning for the Tigers, but it was far from that.
In relief of Burnett, reliever Michael Neimkin struck out Dixon for the first out of the inning and then got Donaldson to fly out to Alling in right field. Not the fastest of runners, Bell took off from third and arrived at the plate just as the ball arrived to catcher Daniel Williams from the outfield. The two collided up the third base line three feet, causing Williams to drop the ball. The umpire ruled that Bell could have slid and much to the dismay of the Tigers he was thrown out of the game. That caused Slater to come out of the dugout and argue the call and he was thrown out as well. The play gave the Bulldogs the momentum and they made good use of it in the bottom of the inning.
"I told him what he had done wrong, which is first he called Josh Bell safe, which was the correct call," Slater said of the play. "The throw was never there at all. The catcher did not have the ball and ran up the line to get a ball that was way off line. Josh inadvertently collided with him, there was no maliciousness whatsoever. They both kind of spun, neither one of them got knocked down hard, and then he called him safe.
"When they ran out of the dugout Josh was halfway back to our dugout and they're screaming at the guy that Josh ran into him, which was unavoidable. He then decided to throw Josh out of the game and by rule, if they call malicious contact, he is both out and out of the game. As soon as he threw him out I went out to tell him he had made a very bad decision on the play. ‘You called him safe and your initial call was correct. For you to now to reverse that is a terrible, terrible decision.' And it was. It was a very bad call."
Facing Shore, Trey Moody led off with a single to left and he moved to second on a ground ball by Drew Reagan. Struggling with his control, Shore hit Bill Whitehead with a pitch and Williams followed with a single to left to load the bases with one out. That was the end of the day for Shore as Madden came on, but a pair of infield singles sandwiched around a ground ball out plated all three runners to give the Bulldogs the 5-3 lead heading to the sixth.
Auburn answered back in the top of the inning as Edwards was hit by a pitch with one out to get things going. He quickly stole second with Johnstone at the plate and appeared to be on his way to scoring, but a diving stop by Parker Gargis at shortstop kept Edwards at third on an infield single. A Thomas strikeout could have been a killer for Auburn, but Huskins came through with a big single to right field that scored both runners and tie the game at five. Amonite singled to right just moments later, but a Boutwell groundout put an end to the Auburn rally.
The Tigers put some distance between themselves and Samford in the top of the seventh inning as they sent eight batters to the plate against the Bulldogs and scored four runs. Dixon led things off with a single to right field and from there things just mushroomed for Auburn. A hit batter, base hit, and a pair of balks scored two for the Tigers until Huskins did his damage again. Coming up with two on and two out, he singled to give Auburn a four-run lead. It was his second hit of the night and fourth RBI of the game. Leading by four Madden went out in the bottom of the inning to shut the door on Samford.
Things didn't go quite as planned as Madden hit Whitehead with a 0-2 pitch to lead off the inning. The third baseman moved to second on a wild pitch from the Auburn senior and scored one out later on a single by Morgan to left. Following another single by Alling, Madden struck out Garrett Rice before Nix came on to get the final out of the inning. Auburn added two runs in the eighth inning to break the game open and take a 11-6 lead and put one more on the board in the ninth to make the final 12-6 Tigers.
Boutwell and Dixon led the way for the Tigers at the plate with three hits each while Huskins and Edwards added two hits apiece. That is 10 of Auburn's 14 hits on the night. Morgan led the way for Samford with three hits while Neimkin took the loss on the mound, allowing six run on six hits in two and two/thirds innings.
Auburn returns to action this weekend when it travels to Lexington to face the Kentucky Wildcats in a three game series. Game times for the weekend are 5:30 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday and a 10 a.m. start on Sunday.