Needing a strong pitching performance of their own, the Tigers (33-25) were left thin the rest of the weekend after starter Josh Sullivan lasted just three and one/third innings in the loss. Struggling with his control, Sullivan walked six, gave up five hits and all four Seminole runs. Relievers Jared Shore and John Madden kept the game within reach, but Coach Tommy Slater said that on this night Henry was just too good.
"Obviously we're disappointed in the loss, but give a lot of credit to Florida State," Slater said. "They are very quality team. I thought Bryan Henry was outstanding tonight. He did a great job of locating to both sides of the plate and did a good job of mixing in and out. He settled down after we put some runs up on him early. He was very, very good and it's easy to see why he was a First-Team All-ACC pitcher this year."
For Sullivan the night wasn't as good. Struggling to find the strike zone from the beginning of the game, the junior was all over the place and didn't make it out of the fourth inning as he threw 107 pitches in the loss. While Sullivan said he takes the loss fully on his shoulders, Slater said it was a team effort in all phases.
"I didn't have my control tonight obviously," Sullivan said. "I take full responsibility for the loss. I let my team down, but I know we'll be back tomorrow. I know what kind of team we have and we'll be fighting when we get back tomorrow."
Auburn struck first against the homestanding Seminoles as the Tigers got to Henry thanks to the middle of the order. Leading off the second Karl Amonite hit a high fly ball that just found the netting over center fielder Shane Robinson's head. Never slowing down, Amonite rolled into third base with a triple before the ball could get back into the infield. Left fielder Jeff Boutwell followed by earning a walk to bring designated hitter Russell Dixon to the plate.
Getting a fastball, Dixon drilled it deep into center field. Robinson tracked the ball down, but Amonite scored on the play to make it 1-0 Tigers. Third baseman Josh Donaldson then delivered the big blow, taking an 0-2 fastball deep over the left field wall for his sixth home run of the season. The shot gave Auburn a quick 3-0, but Sullivan couldn't make it stand after strugging to find the strike zone.
Josh Donaldson is congratulated at home plate after his early blast gave Auburn a 3-0 lead.
Despite getting two runners on in the second with a hit-by-pitch and a walk, the Seminoles couldn't get a run across as Sullivan got Robinson to fly out deep to center to end the inning. It was a sign of things to come in the next two innings though as Florida State capitalized on mistakes to take the lead back from the Tigers.
In the third Gibbs Chapman got a one-out walk from Sullivan to bring catcher Barry Cheeseman to the plate. Remaining patient, Cheeseman also earned a walk while Chapman stole second to put two Seminoles on base with nobody out. Right fielder Jack Rye followed with a jam single to right field that scored Chapman, but the throw from Thomas to third caught Rye off first and Josh Donaldson gunned him down for the second out of the inning. Daniel Wardell struck out to end the inning, but Sullivan's problems on this night were clear to see and Florida State exploited them in the fourth.
Leading off the fourth Brant Peacher earned Sullivan's sixth walk of the night and it began a big inning for the Seminoles. Shortstop Ryne Jernigan followed with a double down the left field line that easily scored Peacher to make it 3-2. A single by number nine hitter Tony Thomas followed and, after a Robinson ground out, back to back singles by Malone and Chapman made the score 4-3 Florida State.
Auburn suffered a big blow to its comeback chances later in the inning as Shore came on to replace Sullivan to face Cheeseman. Attempting to bunt runners over, Cheeseman popped the ball up between Amonite and Shore along the first base line. Diving for the ball, Shore clipped Amonite's knees and sent him to the turf. The big first baseman returned to finish out the inning, but couldn't return for the rest of the game with a badly sprained left ankle. Slater said that Amonite will be limited on Sunday and could be out of action if his ankle doesn't improve overnight.
That proved to be big as Henry shut down the Tigers the rest of the way. In the eighth inning second baseman Tyler Johnstone led off with a single and stole second with one out in the inning. Following a Josh Bell strikeout, which set a career high for Henry, Amonite's spot in the order came up with Derek Sain getting the call. Hitting just .043 on the season, Sain ground out to Wardell at first to end the inning and the Auburn threat. Henry closed things out with a complete game finish as he shut down Auburn to claim his ninth victory of the season.
"We hit some balls hard throughout the game, but he started to locate better as the game went on," Slater said. "He really did a nice job of locating away from our guys at times. We had an at-bat where Donny (Donaldson) had a couple of breaking balls early and he got to 1-2 and busted him in with a fastball. That's just good pitching. The kid really did a nice job of locating to both sides of the plate. When you can locate to both sides of the plate with your fastball like he did tonight (then) runs are going to be tough to come by."
The Tigers now return to action quickly as they face the Army Cadets in the loser's bracket game at noon central time on Sunday. The Cadets won earlier on Saturday 8-5 over South Alabama and will be a tough match-up for the Tigers and a depleted pitching staff. Auburn is expected to start true freshman Cliff Mullins. A win would give Auburn another shot at Florida State Sunday night at 6. They would have to beat the Seminoles twice to advance to the Super Regional next weekend.