For the Tigers the story of the day was the pitching of starter Mike Felix and relievers Jared Shore, John Madden and Michael Nix. In his first outing since late in March Felix was outstanding, giving Auburn five innings of work before turning the ball over to the bullpen to bring the game home. Coach Tommy Slater said the performance was a great one for Felix, who has struggled recently but didn't let that bother him on Tuesday night.
"Our guys really played with a lot of composure," Slater said. "I'm really proud of them and I'm really proud of Mike Felix tonight. What an outstanding start. He filled up the strike zone. He did what we asked him to do.
"Yeah, they hit a couple of home runs, but they were solo home runs for the most part. There weren't many guys on base because he didn't walk people. It was a very positive outing for Mike Felix. I'm so excited for Jared Shore to get back up on the mound after a rough outing on Sunday and throw strikes. Then Nix was outstanding at the end."
With the game tied at three in the ninth inning the Tigers were looking for production out of the top of the order and that's exactly what they got. Leading off the frame second baseman Tyler Johnstone reached on an infield single and right fielder Clete Thomas walked to put the potential winning run in scoring position. Unfortunately Troy had other ideas as the Trojans coaxed Bell into a ground ball to the third baseman who stepped on the bag and threw to first for the double play.
Those kinds of turning-point plays have happened to Auburn several times this season, but they continue to fight and Tuesday night it paid off. With Thomas on second Amonite got a pitch to hit and drove it into right field for a single. The hit easily scored Thomas from second to put Auburn in front. Nix came on to close the door in the ninth for his fifth victory of the season. Amonite said it was a good win for the Tigers against a solid Troy team.
"Clete is a great runner so all I have to do is do my job and get the hit," Amonite said. "In that situation you try not to pressure yourself and be cool, calm and collected. When there is too much pressure you sometimes try to do too many things and bad things happen. I just went up there like any at-bat and the ball went into the outfield."
The Tigers wasted little time in getting on the board first Tuesday night as Johnstone worked a walk to lead off the game and moved to second moments later on a single by Thomas. After a wild pitch moved both runners up a base Johnstone scored as catcher Bell lifted a fly ball to deep center field. On the play Thomas moved to third with Amonite and Jeff Boutwell due up next, but neither could get the ball in play as two strikeouts left Auburn with just one run after the inning.
Felix cruised through the first inning, but wouldn't be as fortunate in the second. Leading off the inning catcher Henry Gutierrez homered to left field, his 15th of the season, to tie the game at one. Designated hitter Nick Smith was up next and he singled sharply to right field to bring Dru Rymer to the plate. Rymer moved the runner over for third baseman Jared Keel, but it didn't matter as Keel deposited the first pitch over the left field wall for a home run. The blow put Troy up 3-1 after just two innings of play.
Things would remain the same until the sixth inning as Felix settled in and pitched well through five innings. In the sixth Amonite led things off with a single up the middle. Boutwell was next and he was hit by a pitch to put the Tigers in business. After a Ben Sprague ground ball moved both runners over it was Josh Donaldson that came up big for the Tigers. Getting a pitch to hit, he drove the ball back up the middle for a single that scored both Amonite and Boutwell and tied the game at three.
That's the way things would remain through eight innings as Auburn's bullpen kept the struggling offense in the game. In the bottom of the seventh things hot hairy though as Madden got into some trouble before Nix bailed him out. With one out and a runner on first center fielder Adam Godwin hit a ground ball to Johnstone at second and beat the throw to first to avoid the double play. A single by Blake Green and a walk to Clint Robinson loaded the bases, but Nix came on to get Gutierrez on a ground ball to end the threat with the game still tied at three. That set the stage for Auburn's dramatic win in the ninth inning.
The Tigers return to action this weekend when they face the Ole Miss Rebels in a big three-game series at Plainsman Park. Currently the Tigers are 9-12 in SEC play, one half game ahead of Mississippi State in the Western Division and tied with Arkansas. Auburn is also one game behind Vanderbilt for seventh place in the league. With the top eight teams advancing to Hoover for the SEC Tournament the Tigers likely need five victories in the last nine games to advance. They could go a long way towards that goal with a series with this weekend. Game times are set for 7 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday with a 1 p.m. start on Sunday.