Absolutely Perfect: AU's Brandon Makes History

Auburn, Ala.--Sophomore <b>Eric Brandon</b> threw the first nine-inning perfect game in school history Saturday afternoon as the Auburn Tigers (9-4) defeated the Murray State Thoroughbreds (2-6) by the score of 9-0 at Plainsman Park. The perfect game was the first by a Southeastern Conference pitcher since 1967.

"That's just as good as it gets," Auburn head coach Steve Renfroe said following the game. "He was zoned. He had great tempo today and great focus. He's just a tremendous competitor."

"I saw one no-hitter in pro ball and it wasn't near that dominant," Auburn pitching coach Mark Fuller said. "When a guy gets better in the ninth than he is in the first, second, third or fourth with the pressure on, that tells you what kind of kid you've got right there."

Dominant is almost not strong enough to describe Brandon's performance on the mound. Throwing just 94 pitches, the sophomore from Nashville struck out 12 Thoroughbreds and only allowed a few hard-hit balls the entire game. Perhaps no inning summed up his outing like the top of the ninth. With the crowd standing and cheering in anticipation of history being made, Brandon took on hitters Mike Voyles, Brian Boeshko and Charlie Ward for Murray State. Just like he had done all day, Brandon went right for the jugular and struck out the side to seal perfection.

Brandon looks in for the signs from catcher Bobby Huddleston.

"That kid, it doesn't matter what he has," Auburn catcher Trent Pratt said of Brandon in the ninth inning. "If he would have given up four runs he would still have that same approach. He's the type of kid that is never going to back down to anyone, he's going to go after them the whole time. I wasn't surprised a bit he was that good in the ninth inning."

Brandon's gem overshadows a team performance by Auburn that defies logic. Once again the bats couldn't get warm on a damp and soggy Alabama day. In fact, the Tigers only had one hit themselves through five and one/third innings thanks to a solid performance by Murray State starter Jesse Rhodes. But that changed quickly as a walk to Tug Hulett and a Bobby Huddleston single eventually led to the first run of the game. Setting the table for Mike Mueller, Hulett would score when the big left-hander laced a double down the left field line for the 1-0 Auburn lead.

Javon Moran scores on a Tug Hulett double in the seventh.

Things would go from bad to disaster for Murray State in the bottom of the seventh though thanks to an eight-run inning on eight hits. With one out and nobody on, shortstop Chuck Jeroloman singled up the middle to get things going for the Tigers. Javon Moran was up next and he delivered, ripping a double into right-center field to score Jeroloman and give the Tigers a 2-0 lead.

That looked to be all Brandon would need, but Auburn was just getting started. Six hits later, with the big blow coming from Scott Schade in the form of a two-run double, Auburn was up 9-0 and all that was left was Brandon finishing out his shot at immortality.

"The inning we scored the eight runs, I wanted to get out of it with about five," a relieved Brandon said after the game. "I felt pretty good out there today. My change-up started working about the seventh and my slider really started working about the sixth or the seventh. I was going with fastballs pretty much all day then all of the sudden, in the late innings, I got better."

Showing the command of his pitches that has made him dominant all season, Brandon continued to go right at the Murray State batters into the late innings. Junior Bobby Huddleston, who caught the first seven innings of Saturday's game, said that this was a continuation of what he has witnessed all year from the hard-throwing Brandon.

"There was nothing different about him today," Huddleston said. "He was as good as he's always been. He just got the big pitches when he needed them. He was unbelievable. He was getting more of the corners than I think I have ever seen him. He had every pitch working like always, but somebody was looking out for him and saying today was his day."

Auburn has had a perfect game in its past as Jason Johnson pitched a perfect game against LaGrange College back in 1991, but it was only for seven innings. On the year Brandon has struck out 26 batters without allowing a walk in 25 innings pitched.

The same two teams wrap up the weekend series on Sunday when Colby Paxton takes the mound for the Tigers trying to follow two straight solid performances on the mound. On the season Paxton is 2-1 with an ERA of 4.32.

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