Javon Moran, Doug Vines, Jonathan Schuerholz and Sean Gamble all had a pair of hits for the Tigers in what can best be described a lackluster performance at the plate. The same can't be said for Auburn's defense though as Vines had a pair of double plays from his right field spot, one catching a runner asleep at first base and the other a perfect throw to nail a runner at the plate with what would later become the eventual game-tying run. For Auburn coach Steve Renfroe, depending on the defense is nothing new.
"Everybody knows we have to do that," he said following the game. "Saturday at Florida all the sudden we didn't pitch and we didn't defend for two innings and the game got away from us…tonight we played defense. Doug Vines was outstanding. Two double plays from the rightfielder. That's a pretty good day's work. We've just got to scrap. There's no easy answer."
One of the reasons why the offense may have struggled was the absence of one of the leading hitters from the lineup. Junior Bobby Huddleston was scratched from the batting order prior to the game after he suffered some pain in side taking some swings in the batting cage. It is believed he suffered a pulled muscle in his side during the ninth inning of Sunday's game in Gainesville. His status will be evaluated later in the week for this weekend's important series against LSU.
On the mound it was rotation by committee for Renfroe and staff as five pitchers combined to hold the Bears to just two runs on 12 hits while striking out three. Sophomore Andrew Skinner picked up the win by pitching one and one/third innings and allowing one run on four hits.
Sophomore Cory Dueitt earned the save, his fourth of the season, with two innings pitched. He allowed one run on three hits while striking out one. Also seeing action were starter Arnold Hughey and relievers Lee Carter and Brandon Channell.
It would take until the third inning for the Tigers to get on the board against scrappy Mercer starter Chris Bishop. Gamble led things off by drilling a triple into the left-center field gap and Moran followed with an infield single. However, playing it safe, Gamble held at third on the ground ball that just hopped over the head of Bishop on the mound. With runners on first and third, Vines was next up and he singled sharply through the right side for the 1-0 Auburn lead.
First and third again, Vines was off and running, easily stealing second base to give the Tigers two runners in scoring position with nobody out and the heart of the order coming to the plate. That turned out not to matter as Trent Pratt, Scott Schade and Mike Mueller went down in order to end the Auburn threat with just one run scored.
"We worked a lot before the game trying to hit the ball to the opposite field," Gamble said. "When I try to pull the ball my mechanics get bad so I'm just trying to hit the ball up the middle. He was throwing kind of slow and his balls were tailing away from me so if you try to pull it you won't be able to hit him at all."
The Bears tied the game in the fourth inning when Mike Appaluccia homered off Skinner over the left field wall for his 10th of the season giving Mercer some life. Auburn would get that run back in the bottom of the inning thanks to the hustle of Schuerholz. After being hit by a pitch with one out in the inning, he advanced all the way to third base when a Josh Todd infield single glanced off the glove of Mercer second baseman Luke Jackson into short right field.
Gamble was due up next and worked the count in his favor, eventually earning a walk to load the bases. With a chance to blow the game open, Moran hit into a fielder's choice on the infield that allowed Schuerholz to score from third but nobody else. Vines would then ground into a fielder's choice to end the inning with Auburn leading just 2-1.
Designated hitter Mike Mueller stands at second following a fifth inning double, his only hit of the game. Fans watching the contest on 25-cent hotdog night put away nearly 10,000 dogs as the Tigers defeated the Bears.
Auburn would add its last run of the game in the sixth and once again Schuerholz was the catalyst. Leading off the inning, he blooped one down the right field line and legged it to second base for a double. Todd was up next and he bunted Schuerholz over to third setting the table for Gamble. He wouldn't get a chance though as he was hit by a pitch to bring Moran to the plate. Attempting to catch Gamble asleep, new pitcher Brian Jones threw the ball away at first base allowing Schuerholz to walk home from third.
Mercer would add a run in the ninth and had the go-ahead run at the plate with two outs in the form of Kyle Levengood but Dueitt coaxed him into hitting a ground ball to Schuerholz at third. The junior calmly threw across the diamond for the final out of the game giving the Tigers a tougher than expected 3-2 victory.
Auburn returns to action on Wednesday at 6 p.m. when they travel to Mobile to face the South Alabama Jaguars. Junior Mike Mueller is expected to get the start for the Tigers while the Jaguars are expected to use a number of pitchers because of a 10-day break between games. This weekend the Tigers are hosts to the LSU Tigers for athree-game series at Plainsman Park. Game times are 6:30 p.m. on Friday, 3 p.m. on Saturday and 1:30 on Sunday afternoon.