Auburn starter Colby Paxton pitched eight strong innings and Steven Register came on in the ninth to earn his first win of the season as the two combined to allow just six hits to the Vandy batters. However, this game was all about Moran and Pratt.
Colby Paxton pitched into the ninth inning for the Tigers when he was replaced by Steven Register.
After a Karl Nonemaker double in the top of the ninth off Register tied the game, the Tigers came to the plate hoping to do what had happened so many times to them this season, win one late. With one out, Moran singled in the hole between third base and shortstop to get the rally started.
With Bobby Huddleston at the plate, the speedy center fielder then stole second base on a 1-1 count to get himself in scoring position. A wild pitch on the next offering from Vanderbilt reliever Robert Ranson then moved Moran to third with just one out. Working the count full, Huddleston took what appeared to be ball four outside only to see it called strike three, much to the chagrin of the brave souls who remained on a cool night on the Plains.
That brought Pratt to the plate. Struggling for much of the past month, the catcher had already driven home one run in the game with a third inning double. With all of the pressure on his shoulders, down one strike, Pratt got an inside pitch and pulled it on the ground through the left side to score Moran and send the Tiger players sprinting out of the dugout in celebration.
After so many of these that have gone the other way, Pratt said this one was sweet but they all count the same this time of year.
"It feels good," Pratt said. "It just feels good to win. Anything else this team doesn't care about. We've just got to come out and pull together as a team and get wins, that's all it's about. It doesn't matter if I get a game-winning hit or Javon or (Jonathan) Schuerholz or Bobby, it doesn't matter anymore. We just need to pull together and get some wins."
The win may not have been possible without the performance of Paxton. While he wasn't as sharp as he would have liked, Paxton battled like a seasoned veteran Friday night. Working well into the game by mixing a lively fastball and sharp slider, the sophomore kept the Tigers in the game despite sometimes shaky defense by his teammates behind him. That came to a head in the fourth inning as an error by second baseman Tug Hulett on a ground ball led to a big four-run rally by the Commodores that tied the game after Auburn had jumped to the early lead.
"I tell you that was a warrior effort out of Colby I thought," Auburn coach Steve Renfroe said. "He had a chance for the game to totally get away from him and we came back. I was proud that we came right back and got the lead and he made it stick."
Tied at four-all in the bottom of the fifth, the Tigers got the run they were looking for and it was Hulett that made up for his mistake. With one out, the freshman doubled to center to give the bottom of the order a chance to drive him home. After a Scott Schade walk, Doug Vines hit into a fielder's choice that retired Schade at second, leaving runners on first and third with two outs. That would be important as Vines' speed at first gave the Tigers what would become an important fifth run. Chuck Jeroloman hit a ground ball to shortstop Tony Mansolino, but he couldn't find the handle on the first attempt. By the time he got the ball and flipped it to second base, it was too late as Vines slid safely in allowing Hulett to score from third giving Auburn the 5-4 lead.
Center fielder Javon Moran takes a lead for the Tigers.
The Tigers had their problems with Little, who held the Tigers in check after giving up early runs. In the first a Pratt sacrifice fly plated Gamble with Auburn's first run of the game. In the third a Pratt double and Hulett single scored three more to make it 4-0 early. Holding Auburn to just one hit after the fourth inning and just two hits after the third, Little took the game into the eighth keeping his team within striking distance at 5-4. But Auburn would eventually pull out the game to move within two games of .500 with eight conference games remaining.
The Tigers and Commodores square off in game two of the series Saturday night at 6:30 when junior Levale Speigner takes the mound against senior Steven Faulkner for Vanderbilt. Speigner is 7-5 on the season with a 4.02 ERA while Faulkner is 3-3 with a 5.69 earned run average.