Allowing just four hits and two walks while striking out six Tennessee hitters, Speigner put the Tigers on his shoulders Friday night and Coach Steve Renfroe could only smile following the performance.
"That's as good as it gets," Renfroe said. "Our pitchers know, we talk about it and I love this team. I really do. They're going to grow into something special, but we're honest. We're not a great offensive team and yet they go out there and put us on their back and battle. We let him go extra because he threw 90 percent fastballs. I thought that was a great way to go after this game tonight. We looked at what the wind was doing when we came in and we felt like that was the thing to do. We let him go about 10 extra pitches. He felt great and it looked like his stuff was getting better. It's a big win."
Levale Speigner throws during Friday's game.
Stagnant offensively because of the cold air and the pitching of Tennessee starter Ben Riley, who pitched eight innings and allowed just six hits and three runs, the Auburn team decided early to rely on its defense and pitching to carry the Tigers to the win. That meant putting the ball in Speigner's hands and trusting him with the game. That's something he said he relished on this arctic night.
"I was coming in the whole time on the bus ride up thinking I had to hold them to less than three runs," Speigner said. "I just wanted to let our gets hit the ball and play defense around me. I got what I was looking for.
"It was cold tonight," Speigner added. "I was stubborn early. I couldn't find the strike zone early and as the game got later and later I started to get a little bit tired. That helped me because I started getting the ball down more. I was up early. It worked out for me. We were coming in looking for that first win. We've got that one under our belts now and we can relax and play ball and try to get two or three."
The pitching duel began early as both Speigner and Riley had it going from the first inning. Although he struggled with his control, Speigner still managed to keep the Vols scoreless early. He escaped trouble in the third inning as two Tennessee runners reached safely, the second on a bunt to Speigner that he couldn't field in time.
With runners on first and third with just one out, lead-off man Nick Crowe hit a one-hopper back to Speigner on the mound. With the runner moving from first on the pitch, Speigner held the runner at third and threw to first for the second out of the inning. Brandon Hopkins then grounded out to Schuerholz at third to end the inning and the Tennessee threat.
Auburn finally got on the board in the fifth inning. With one out and nobody on, freshman Sean Gamble earned a walk on just four pitchers to reach first base. Because of his speed, Gamble received plenty of attention from Riley and that allowed Chuck Jeroloman to walk as well and just like that Auburn had runners on first and second with one out.
Javon Moran was up next and the centerfielder grounded out to short to move the runners up a base. That would pay off with Tug Hulett at the plate, Tennessee catcher Hal Bibee tried to pick off Gamble at third but threw the ball into left field instead. The error allowed Gamble to score and put Auburn ahead 1-0.
A view from Lindsey Nelson Stadium looking towards the Smokey Mountains.
The Tigers extended the lead in the top of the sixth inning thanks to some clutch hitting by the bottom half of the order. Bobby Huddleston got things started with a bloop single to center field that was just out of the reach of two Vol defenders. After a Mike Mueller strikeout, Scott Schade singled to center that gave the Tigers runners on first and second. With Huddleston on second, Renfroe decided to insert more speed into the lineup with John Tyler taking his place. The move worked as Tyler advanced to third on a Trent Pratt fly ball to right field and scored one batter later when Schuerholz reached on an infield single to the right side.
Gamble followed with a single to left to drive home Schade giving Auburn a 3-0 lead heading to the bottom of the sixth inning.
From that moment forward it was all Speigner. Working himself out of a jam in the seventh with a strikeout of pinch-hitter Adam Smith with two outs and two runners aboard, Speigner took it to the Vols in the eighth and the ninth. Retiring the side in order both innings, including a strikeout to finish the game, he picked up his fifth win of the season to go with two losses. The loss drops Riley to 2-1 on the year.
Auburn was led at the plate by Huddleston, who had two of Auburn's six hits. Moran went hitless in the game putting an end to his 12-game hitting streak.
The same two teams face off again on Saturday as Eric Brandon takes the mound against Patrick Hicklen for Tennessee. Brandon is 3-0 on the season with an earned run average of 2.25 while Hicklen is 3-3 with a 7.39 ERA. Game time for Saturday is 3 p.m. CST.