Leading by two in the ninth inning and with star closer Michael Nix on the mound, the Rebels got runners on second and third with just one out. That's when Sprague would come through in the clutch. First Chris Coghlan hit a deep fly ball to left field that Sprague ran down near the line. The play was deep enough to score Zack Cozart from third base. That brought all-everything Stephen Head to the plate.
Hitting .316 on the season coming into the game, Head was already 0-4 on the night. A betting man would say he wouldn't go 0-5, but they would be wrong but barely. Getting a 1-0 fastball from Nix, Head drilled it deep into the left-center field gap. Running full speed, the senior put up his glove at the last moment and caught the ball on the warning track just to the right of the 385 sign. Sprague said there wasn't much going on in the play as he just ran and made the catch.
"I put my head down and just ran," Sprague said. "I didn't look up, I just kept my head down and started sprinting. That's all I could do. I looked up at the last second and the ball was close to me. I stuck my glove out and caught it.
"It was awesome," Sprague added, "to see the guys run out there to me so I could help them. The little time I got out there I helped them. That's what baseball is all about."
Arnold Hughey was outstanding in Friday night's win over the Rebels.
In a game filled with big plays on offense and defense, it was the pitching of Arnold Hughey in the starting role that turned out to be huge for the Tigers. Auburn only scored one run the first five innings, but were kept in the game by Hughey's heart and determination the mound. In the end he earned his fifth victory of the season as the Tigers exploded for three runs in the sixth. He said that despite not having his best stuff this was a great game for him and the team.
Early on it was a pitcher's duel between Hughey and Ole Miss ace Mark Holliman as both teams struggled to score runs this Friday night. In the second inning the Rebels got on the board first as left fielder Mark Wright homered over the left field wall. It was his 11th home run of the season and put the visitors on the board first.
Things remained that way until Auburn got the run back in the third inning. Josh Donaldson led off things with an infield single that just got by Holliman up the first base line. Center fielder Bruce Edwards bunted Donaldson over to second and set the table for Stacey and the top of the Auburn order. Stacey couldn't get the job done, but Johnstone singled to center to score Donaldson easily and tie the game at one.
The long ball again came back to haunt the Tigers in the top of the sixth inning, this time off the bat of right fielder Brian Pettway. Coming into the game leading the league in hitting at .419 with 15 home runs, Pettway worked the count full before pulling a low pitch over the left field wall for a solo shot. The blast gave the Rebels at 2-1 lead that would only last until the bottom of the inning when Auburn came up with three runs that would eventually give the Tigers the big victory.
Leading off the sixth Clete Thomas blooped a double just inside the left field line to put the Tigers in business. Josh Bell followed with a single just over the outstretched glove of second baseman Osteen to score Thomas and tie the game. Following a walk to Karl Amonite, Jeff Boutwell bunted both runners over into scoring position with just one out. The freshmen then came through as Russell Dixon lifted a long fly ball into right field that easily scored Bell and Donaldson fought off five two-strike pitches before dropping a single into center field. The hit scored Amonite with the eventual game-winner as Auburn took a 4-2 lead into the late innings and eventually held on for the win.
Heading into Saturday's games the Tigers find themselves tied with Vanderbilt and Arkansas for eighth overall in the standings at 10-12 in league play. Leading the pack is Florida (14-8) followed by Tennessee (13-8), Alabama (13-9), LSU (13-9), Ole Miss (12-10), South Carolina (12-10) and Mississippi State (10-11).
Auburn and Ole Miss will play game two of the series Saturday at 7 p.m. The game was originally scheduled for 4 p.m., but because of final exams it has been moved back. Junior Josh Sullivan will be on the mound facing Matt Maloney for the Rebels.