"What a fine pitching performance by senior Arnold Hughey," Slater said. "He went out and just dominated the strike zone and really had them off-balance all night. Then Madden comes in and finishes up the seventh and eighth innings for us. Then Nix was just outstanding there in the ninth. Just a fine pitching performance all the way around."
While a performance like Hughey's isn't unexpected for a senior, the same isn't true of a freshman like Donaldson. Hitting .297 with two home runs coming into the game, Donaldson had all three hits in his first three at-bats at a time when South Carolina starter Aaron Rawl was shutting down the Tigers at the plate. Slater said Donaldson continues to improve at the plate and in the field and came up big for Auburn in a big situation.
"The ball ‘Don' hit the first time probably is a double off our monster, but it was crushed and a home run anywhere but home," Slater said. "The second one probably isn't a home run, but here in this ballpark it is. He's playing really well. When ‘Don' gets up in his first at-bat and smokes a ball to right field for a double that tells you he's locked-in pretty good. They tried to go in on him and he made them pay."
Arnold Hughey improved his record to 4-4 on the season with the win Friday night.
It didn't take long for the Tigers to get on the board against Rawl thanks to a rare defensive error by South Carolina shortstop Steven Tolleson. With one out in the inning Clete Thomas hit a ground ball to short that Tolleson booted, allowing Thomas to reach. Catcher Josh Bell followed with a single up the middle to put Auburn in business. First baseman Karl Amonite was up next and he hit a ground ball that was just slow enough to avoid the double play and that would be important as Jeff Boutwell singled to left to score Thomas and put the Tigers up 1-0.
Hughey would coast through the first and get more run support in the second thanks to Donaldson. Leading off the inning the third baseman doubled off the base of the right field wall to get into scoring position. Following a Bruce Edwards strikeout Adam Stacey singled to right to score Donaldson from second and give the Tigers a two-run lead heading to the bottom of the second.
Auburn continued to coast on the mound as Hughey sat down the Gamecocks in the second and third before Donaldson would again provide the offensive fireworks. Leading off the fourth the freshman got a pitch to pull and drove it deep into left field for a solo home run. It was his third home run of the season and gave the Tigers a 3-0 lead against the Gamecocks. With Hughey still in control Donaldson would add to his home run total and Auburn's lead in the top of the sixth inning as he again hit a solo home run to left field to put the Tigers ahead by four with nine outs left for South Carolina.
Always tough at home, the Gamecocks didn't die as Hughey didn't make it through the seventh inning before Madden came on in relief. With one out in the inning Chris Brown worked a walk from Hughey to give the Gamecocks a baserunner. Davy Gregg followed with a single to put a runner in scoring position and end Hughey's day. Pinch-hitter Neil Geisler was up next and he hit a fly ball down the left field line that Boutwell made a diving catch on for the second out of the inning. Madden got the last out of the inning on a ground ball by Tolleson to secure Auburn's four-run lead heading to the eighth.
South Carolina finally got on the board in the eighth, but Madden escaped big trouble thanks to his trusty ground ball pitching. After walking Michael Campbell to lead off the inning Madden gave up a single to Steve Pearce on a hit-and-run to put runners on the corners with nobody out. Catcher Ryan Mahoney, who had struck out three times on the night, hit a sharp grounder to Donaldson at third who started the 5-4-3 double play. While the run scored it took care of a baserunner. Madden struck out Jon Willard to end the inning and the Gamecock threat.
The Tigers missed a chance to extend the lead back to four in the ninth, but a strong defensive play by South Carolina kept them within three. With two outs and nobody on Edwards singled to center to extend his hitting streak to seven games. He quickly stole second base to get into scoring position for Stacey, who singled to shallow right field. Unfortunately the hit wasn't deep enough as Edwards was thrown out at the plate to end the inning. Nix came on to close the door in the ninth inning to earn his 11th save of the season. The total is third in Auburn history for a season, surpassing Gregg Olson's 10-save seasons in 1987 and 1988.
Auburn and South Carolina meet for the second game of the series at 3 p.m. Saturday at Sarge-Frye Field in Columbia. Josh Sullivan is on the mound for the Tigers against Zac McCamie for the Gamecocks.