Baker's Bombs Lead Clemson In Series Opener

Auburn dropped the opener of a three-game baseball series 7-4 to the Clemson Tigers Friday afternoon.

Clemson, S.C.--Jeff Baker hit two home runs, including a two-run shot in the first inning, to lead the third-ranked Clemson Tigers (1-0) to a 7-4 win over the 25th-ranked Auburn Tigers (7-2) Friday afternoon at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.

A crowd of 3,052 watched Steve Reba earn the win for Clemson by throwing six innings, allowing four runs on nine hits. Levale Speigner got the loss for Auburn, throwing six and two/thirds innings, allowing six runs on 11 hits while striking out just one.

"The struggle was just a top round guy got two pitches in his zone and hit them out," Auburn coach Steve Renfroe said of Baker's performance. "We came back and scored four, but they came back and got a hit when they had to and we hit a couple of double plays. The game came down to they made a couple of pitches and fielding plays when they had to and then they got a couple of at-bats where they got hits and didn't hit double play balls. That's really what it came down to."

For Auburn this was game was all about stopping Baker. A preseason All-American by just about every publication known to man, the third baseman was a wrecking crew for Clemson on Friday with two early home runs that set the tone for the entire game. While he didn't pitch great, Speigner said this game was an important one for his team and he feels good about the performance although it didn't translate into a win.

"I made some mistakes early and then I settled in a little bit," he said. "They have a great club and they swung it well. We put some runs on the board, but it was tough. You come into a place like Clemson and they've got a tough lineup, you just have to pitch. I just had to battle all day long. I feel pretty good. Besides the first inning I think I held my own. I made a bad pitch to Baker and he raked it."

Speigner prepares to deliver to the plate during Friday's game.

After giving up the early runs, the junior from Thomasville, Ga., settled down, allowing just two runs on four hits while throwing 35 pitches over the final three and two/thirds innings he was on the mound. Showing the toughness that has become a trademark since he first stepped on the mound at Auburn, Speigner said this game was a real test for his club and will pay dividends down the road.

"I think this is big because we're going to see road teams like this in the SEC," Speigner said. "It gets us ready for them early and these guys can play. We find out what we are made of real early. Our hitters find out if they can hit good pitching and I think they feel good after today. We had some great at-bats and I think this gives us a boost. We played well today and I think we'll come out tomorrow and play well again and we'll see what happens at the end of the weekend."

It didn't take long for Clemson's All-American duo to make themselves known in Friday's game. After a scoreless top of the first by Auburn, Khalil Greene drove a single through the right side to score Kyle Frank from second for the first run of the game. Baker was due up next and the big third baseman started his junior season off right where his sophomore ended by driving a curveball deep into center field for a two-run home run that traveled almost 450 feet from home plate. The long ball by Baker, who had 23 last season to lead all returning players in Division I baseball, gave Clemson the early 3-0 lead.

Auburn would begin chipping away at the lead in the top of the third inning. Javon Moran got things started with a single, but was cut down trying to steal second base for the first out of the inning. Tug Hulett followed by grounding out to Baker at third base for the second out before Trent Pratt drew a walk from Clemson starter Reba to give the Tigers some life. Bobby Huddleston followed by pulling one down the third base line for a single that pushed Pratt all the way to third.

Mike Mueller drew another walk from Reba to load the bases for Scott Schade. Continuing to swing the bat well, Schade pulled a single into left to score Pratt from third to make the score 3-1. Matt Grooms drew a walk to score Huddleston with the next at-bat and Auburn was back in the game at 3-2 heading to the bottom of the third inning.

With the lead back to one, Baker once again came through. This time, taking a 3-2 fastball from Speigner, Baker lofted one deep into right-center field that Moran almost caught. Leaping over the fence, he reached high into the air and just got leather on the ball before it fell over the fence for Baker's second home run of the day giving Clemson the 4-2 lead.

Auburn evened the game with single runs in the fourth and the sixth to tie the score at four. In the fourth a fielder's choice off the bat of Hulett scored Moran from third after he moved from first to third on a throwing error. Josh Todd double to start the inning eventually led to his scoring on a double-play groundout by Moran and the game was knotted at four heading to the bottom of the sixth.

Tug Hulett gets a lead at first while Clemson pitcher Steve Reba gets the sign.

Clemson would break open the tie in the bottom of the sixth the old-fashioned way. An infield single by Michael Johnson got things started and Schmidt followed with a single to left to put runners on first and second with nobody out. A sacrifice bunt by David Slevin moved both runners into scoring position before Clemson decided to go against its normal way of scoring and play small ball. Designated hitter Russell Triplett squared and put down a perfect bunt to squeeze home Johnson with the go-ahead run. The Tigers would add another single run in the seventh on a single to left by Greene that would chase Speigner from the game with the home team ahead 6-4.

Cory Duiett came on to retire Baker for the final out of the seventh and keep the lead at two. Auburn threatened in the eighth as back-to-back walks to Doug Vines and Todd set the stage for a run at the lead. Particularly impressive was the at-bat by Vines, who forced 14 pitches before earning the free pass. However, all was for naught as Jeroloman grounded to Greene at shortstop. He started the 6-4-3 double play to end the inning and the threat.

Clemson added one more run on a solo homer by Johnson in the bottom of the eighth as it took game one 7-4 over Auburn.

The same two teams return to action Saturday in Clemson as Colby Paxton earns the start for Auburn against Matt Henrie. Paxton is 2-0 on the season with an ERA of 3.27 while Henrie is 0-0 on the season and will be making his first appearance. The first pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m. CST.

Box Score

Inside The AU Tigers Top Stories