"I thought our guys played real well with a lot of composure," Slater said. "Kentucky came out playing extremely hard and swung the bats well. We had some opportunities early to get some runs, but didn't get it done. As the game unfolded we got it done late. When you look at the scoreboard in the seventh, eighth and ninth we scored four runs. That's quality baseball."
While he wasn't perfect on the night, Hughey gave Auburn solid work on the mound. In five innings he allowed six hits and four runs to the Wildcats, but accomplished his goal of getting Auburn's bullpen in the game with a chance to win. That's all that was needed as the trio allowed just three hits and struck out three in the final four innings. Madden earned his sixth win of the season on a night when Hughey did just enough to help the Tigers to a victory.
"Overall it was a really good team effort," Slater said. "Our bullpen was outstanding tonight. Arnie gutted it out for us tonight. It wasn't a night when he had his best stuff, but he gutted it out for us. Shore gets a couple of outs, Madden does his deal, and Nix was very, very good at the end."
Auburn got on the board first Friday night thanks to Bell's prowess at the plate. After Kentucky starter Kalen Gibson retired both Tyler Johnstone and Clete Thomas to open the game, Bell delivered his first blow of the game as he dropped a bomb over the left field wall for his seventh home run of the season.
Josh Bell had two home runs and now leads the team with eight on the season.
The Wildcats answered back quickly as J.B. Schmidt walked to lead off the game against Hughey. Auburn's most veteran pitcher came back strong as he got the next two hitters, but back-to-back singles by Shaun Lehmann and Michael Bertram pushed across Schmidt to tie the game at one. Kentucky would extend the lead in the third inning thanks to the same part of the order. Schmidt led off the inning with a single to right and he moved to second moments later on a sacrifice bunt from John Shelby. Doubles by Billy Grace and Bertram in the inning pushed across two runs as the Wildcats moved out to a 3-1 advantage heading to the fourth inning.
Karl Amonite led off the fourth with double and would later score on a sacrifice fly from Josh Donaldson to bring Auburn within one run, but Kentucky answered back again in the bottom half off Hughey to tie the game once again. The back and forth set the stage for Bell to once again come up big for the Tigers in the fifth.
With Gibson cruising on the mound, having allowed just three hits in the first four innings, Auburn needed someone to come through and it was the top of the order. With two outs and nobody on Thomas singled up the middle to bring Bell back to the plate. It would prove to be a huge play in the game as Bell got a pitch to handle and drove it over the wall for his second home run of the night and eighth of the season. Now tied at four with the Wildcats, Auburn broke the game open late thanks to some clutch hitting and solid pitching out of the bullpen.
In the seventh Thomas walked to lead off the inning and appeared to be picked-off first base, but made it to second for his 17th stolen base of the season. Following a Bell strikeout, Amonite drove an inside fastball deep into right field. Just missing a home run, the ball was deep enough to move Thomas to third with two outs for Jeff Boutwell. Continuing his hot streak in conference play Boutwell singled to left to score Thomas and put Auburn ahead.
With the combination of Shore and now Madden shutting down the Wildcats the offense came back for more in the eighth. With one out Adam Stacey walked off Kentucky reliever J.P Lowen to give the Tigers some life. The shortstop then surprised everyone by stealing second base for just his fourth of the season to get into scoring position. Following a Bruce Edwards strikeout, the Tigers came up with another two-out hit as Johnstone singled home Stacey to put Auburn up 6-4 heading to the eighth.
The Tigers put the game away in the ninth thanks to perfect execution in the ‘small ball' department. Amonite led off by earning a walk and was replaced by pinch-runner Derek Sain. Ben Sprague, who entered the game in the eighth for defensive purposes, was up next and he put down a perfect bunt for a single to give Auburn two runners on with nobody out. Pinch hitter Philip Stringer followed with a good bunt of his own that the third baseman fielded and threw away at first. The play allowed Sain to score and moved Sprauge to third. He scored moments later on Donaldson's second sacrifice fly of the game to make it 8-4 Tigers. Nix shut the door on the Wildcats in the ninth to earn his ninth save of the season.
Bell and Boutwell led Auburn at the plate with two hits each on a night when the Tigers collected just nine hits, but came away with the win. Schmidt, Lehmann and Bertram all had two hits for the Wildcats as they also had nine hits on the night. The loss goes to reliever Craig Snipp as he allowed two runs on two hits when the game was tied to fall to 2-2 on the season.
Auburn and Kentucky continue the series Saturday at 5:30 p.m. when junior Josh Sullivan takes the mound with his 6-2 record and an ERA of just 3.38. The Wildcats are listed as TBA.