"We had a lot of quality at-bats tonight," Slater said. "Our kids really took a nice approach to the plate and hit the ball hard most of the evening. We couldn't seem to get the hit when we needed it. You can't fault our approach and the kids battled hard. In the ninth we get the tying run on deck so I'm real proud of our effort."
Junior Josh Sullivan got the start for the Tigers and was dominant the first four innings of the game, giving up just two singles and not allowing a run. That changed though as he gave up six hits and five runs in the next inning and a third before leaving with his third loss of the season. Relievers Josh Blake and Clarence Nicely closed things out for the Tigers, but on this night the Wildcats had all the answers.
"Sully, the fastball was good and he beat their bats a lot early, but he couldn't find the command of the off-speed pitch tonight," Slater said. "By the fifth inning when the velocity had dropped a little bit and they were tuned in to him a little bit, they were able to string together a few hits. The reason for that was just his inability tonight to find the breaking ball. It was really a competitive outing from Sully because he got something for us and gives us a solid five. I was real proud of him like I always am."
Auburn got on the board first in Saturday's game, but it took until the fifth to do so. Leading off the inning Josh Donaldson singled up the middle to get things going, but back-to-back outs by Philip Stringer and Adam Stacey left things looking bleak for the inning until Ben Sprague came through with the big hit. Getting a pitch to drive, he drilled one deep into right field for a triple that scored Donaldson easily from first. Leading 1-0 Sullivan went back out for the bottom of the fifth with the lead, but it wouldn't last long.
A tough out in Friday's game, Michael Bertram singled to right field off Sullivan to start the fifth and begin a rally for the Wildcats. J.P. Lowen then came through with a single of his own to put a runner in scoring position for Kentucky. After a perfect sacrifice bunt by Shaun Lehmann moved the runners over, Ryan Wilkes singled to right field to score Bertram and tie the game. The second and final run of the inning scored on an Antone DeJesus sacrifice fly. Trailing 2-1 the Tigers looked to get something going against the Cats in the final four innings.
It would take more than one as Kentucky wasn't done against Sullivan as the Cats did more damage in the sixth. Leading off Billy Grace singled up the middle on a 1-2 pitch to get things going. Shelby, trying to move the runner over, put a bunt down in front of the plate that neither Sullivan nor Josh Bell could get to and it wound up being an infield hit. Following a failed bunt attempt, both runners moved up on a wild pitch from Sullivan. With Bertram at the plate a fastball got by Bell for a passed ball to score Grace with the inning's first run. A single by Lowen just past a diving Tyler Johnstone scored another run and just like that Sullivan had lost it and Kentucky was rolling. Another single, this one by Lehmann, loaded the bases with just one out before Slater pulled Sullivan in favor of Blake. The junior college lefty did his job as he got a fly ball to right, but it was deep enough to score Bertram with the third run of the inning. A DeJesus fly ball brought the inning to a close, but not before the Wildcats had taken a commanding 5-1 lead. Kentucky added a run in the seventh to extend the lead and then held off Auburn challenges each of the last two innings to earn the victory.
In the eighth inning Clete Thomas earned a two-out walk with nobody on to bring the heart of the Auburn order to the plate looking to cut into the Wildcat lead. Already with two hits, Bell singled sharply to bring Karl Amonite to the plate. Being careful not to give the Auburn first baseman anything to hit, Kentucky walked Amonite to load the bases with two outs and Jeff Boutwell coming to the plate. Things almost backfired as Boutwell hit a long fly ball to the warning track in center field that was run down by DeJesus for the final out of the inning.
The ninth inning started slow as reliever Brock Baber got the first two Auburn batters before a Russell Dixon pinch-hit double got the inning started for the Tigers. Bruce Edwards followed with a single of his own to give the Tigers some life and score Dixon to make it 6-2. Johnstone reached on a Kentucky error to bring Thomas to the plate looking for more, but it wasn't to be on this night as Thomas struck out against reliever Scott Green to end the game and give the Wildcats their second conference win of the season.
Bell led the way for the Tigers with three hits while Stringer added two. In all Auburn had 10 hits, but didn't have back-to-back hits until the ninth inning. Kentucky was led by the trio of Bertram, Lowen and Lehmann, who combined for six of the Wildcats' 10 hits.
Auburn and Kentucky play the rubber game of the series Sunday morning at 10 a.m. because of travel arrangements for the Tigers. The Tigers are looking for their third series victory of the season, a feat that would match all of last season's total. True freshman Cliff Mullins (1-0, 2.35 ERA) is expected to get the start for Auburn.