Tigers Tame Wildcats To Even Baseball Series

Auburn, Ala.--<b>Javon Moran</b> produced three hits and <b>Eric Brandon</b> allowed just two runs and three hits in six innings as the Auburn Tigers (16-5, 1-1) defeated the Kentucky Wildcats (10-9, 1-1) 4-3 Saturday in front of 3,023 fans at Plainsman Park.

Playing less than their best brand of baseball, the Tigers managed to come away with the win despite stranding 10 runners and consistently hitting or running themselves out of big innings. Two double plays and two runners thrown out at the plate kept Auburn from running away from the Wildcats and instead they had to depend on newfound closer Cory Dueitt to save the day.

Corey Dueitt pitches out of trouble with a runner on third while earning a save on Saturday vs. Kentucky.

"We needed something like that," a calm Dueitt said following the win. "We had to pull this out. This was a big game for us. This gives us a chance to win the series tomorrow. If you win the series you are up on six teams after the first weekend and it's big, especially in our home park. We needed a game like this.

"We battled up at the plate and squeezed another one out in the seventh inning…when I came in there he (Auburn coach Steve Renfroe) said, ‘You have to close it out for us from here on out.' I like being in that role and I like knowing that I have to get it done. Games like that are fun. That is what you play for."

Leading 3-1 in the seventh inning Brandon was cruising despite not being up to his usual form. A lead-off double by designated hitter Mike Ferris sent the sophomore to the showers and Renfroe brought in Andrew Skinner. That move lasted just one batter as Seth Morris singled through the left side to give the Wildcats runners on first and third.

Renfroe then called on closer Ken Clayton. After giving up a sacrifice fly to right field that scored Ferris from third, Clayton allowed pinch hitter Spencer Graeter to single to right field and then steal second base to put the go-ahead run in scoring position. Clayton buckled down and struck out Matt Fritts and then he gave way to Dueitt to finish the inning. The sophomore from Hoover did just that as he coaxed Russ Rutherford into flying out to right field to end the inning and the Kentucky threat with Auburn still leading 3-2.

The Tigers extended the lead in the seventh inning, but could have broken the game open only to see it come down to the wire. Leading off, second baseman Tug Hulett was hit by a pitch for the second time on the day to give the Tigers some life. Bobby Huddleston was next and the junior singled to right field to put runners on first and third.

Wanting to speed up Auburn's base running, Renfroe inserted Trent Wilson into Huddleston's spot hoping to get a score on a ball in the gap. It almost worked. Left fielder Mike Mueller was up next and the big lefty drove a 1-0 pitch into right-center for a double that scored Hulett. Hoping to jump on the Wildcats, Renfroe sent Wilson to the plate only to see the senior easily thrown out for the first out of the inning.

Committing a cardinal sin in baseball by making the first out at the plate, Renfroe said this mistake was all his fault and it cost the Tigers dearly as Trent Pratt would ground into an inning-ending double play just one batter later leaving the score 4-2.

"I put us in a hole," Renfroe said. "I cost us one by getting thrown out at home with no outs. With two outs you have to take a shot. We had a left-on-left coming up and hopefully the guy throws it away but he didn't. But with no outs that was just bad baseball on my part."

It almost came back to bite the Tigers in the eighth inning as the Wildcats made a run for the lead only to see Dueitt extinguish the flame. Caleb Stewart led off the inning with a bunt single and quickly advanced to second on a wild pitch. Moving to third on a groundout by Robert Newton, Stewart looked like he would be stranded there as Dueitt struck out the next batter and got Ferris to hit a soft bouncer to Hulett at second for what appeared to be the last out of the inning. However, Hulett left the ball on the ground allowing Stewart to score and cut the lead to 4-3.

That would be as close as the Wildcats would come as Dueitt closed the door for his second save of the season to even the series heading to Sunday.

Shortstop Chuck Jerolman makes a play vs. the Wildcats.

Early on it looked like Auburn would coast to victory behind the play of Moran and new starting third baseman Jonathan Schuerholz. In the first Moran reached on an infield single and Hulett followed by hitting a one-hopper back to Kentucky pitcher Craig Snipp. Not taking his time, Snipp threw the ball into right field to put runners on second and third with nobody out.

After Huddleston was hit by a pitch to load the bases, Mueller struck out looking for the first out of the inning. Continuing his clutch play, first baseman Scott Schade singled to up the middle to score both runners putting Auburn ahead 2-0. That would be all as the Tigers left two stranded to end the inning.

In the second inning, Schuerholz, in his first start at third base since early in his freshman season, singled through the left side to open the inning. Chuck Jeroloman then walked setting the table for Moran. The speedster, just wanting to bunt the runners over, put down a beauty forcing Fritts to hurry his throw. Once again throwing the ball into right field, the Wildcat's error allowed Schuerholz to score putting Auburn up 3-0. Unfortunately for Auburn, that is how the inning would end as a Hulett bunt single was wasted as a Huddleston double play and Mueller strikeout closed the inning.

Scott Schade drove home two runs for the Tigers on Saturday.

Kentucky would finally scratch in the sixth off Brandon when a Fritts single, followed by a Rutherford hit-by-pitch eventually led to Fritts scoring on a fielder's choice. Brandon left the game one inning later after allowing just three hits and walking one Wildcat, his first walk of the season.

The Tigers send sophomore Colby Paxton (4-1) to the mound on Sunday looking for the series win against Scott Wade (3-2). The first pitch is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. at Plainsman Park.

Box Score

* * *

Discuss Auburn sports With Mark Murphy and Jason Caldwell on the Auburn fans only Tiger Ticket Premium Forum. It is free to Tiger Ticket subscribers.

Inside The AU Tigers Top Stories