However, it wasn't easy.
Bobby Huddleston and Trent Pratt both failed to reach base to open the inning leaving Tug Hulett to try to start a two-out rally. He accomplished that feat as he singled to center off Vandy reliever Robert Ransom bringing Scott Schade to the plate. Working the count and fouling off pitch-after-pitch, Schade earned a walk from Ransom putting Hulett in scoring position.
Bobby Huddleston had three hits for the Tigers on Sunday.
With left-hander Doug Vines coming to the plate, Vanderbilt sent for another reliever to enter the game. This time instead of playing the odds of going lefty against lefty, the Commodores brought in right-hander Chris Maultsby. Bad idea. Vines drilled the second pitch he saw into the left center field gap just out of the reach of a diving Karl Nonemaker. That allowed Hulett to coast home with the game winner and send the Auburn dugout into a frenzy.
The victory, combined with Mississippi State and Arkansas losses, moves the Tigers into fourth-place in the SEC's Western Division and the seventh spot overall. The Tigers now need just a combination of four wins or four Arkansas losses to secure a spot in the SEC Tournament.
"There's a big difference between being 11-13 and 12-12," Jonathan Schuerholz said after sprinting across the field to hug Vines following his game-winning hit."We came out today and we knew it was a big game. We knew what other guys were going to be doing in the league and we had a chance to jump from eighth to seventh and we did it today...we were presented with a challenge today and everybody came prepared to the field and brought it. It was an awesome game."
That might not have been the case for the Tigers without the pitching of Ken Clayton and Arnold Hughey. After failing to score in the bottom of the ninth inning, Auburn sent reliever Cory Dueitt back to the mound in the tenth inning hoping to keep the Commodores at bay.
It didn't appear that would happen as Chris Broadus and Sean Luellwitz both reached base to open the inning and Scott Shapiro followed with a perfect sacrifice bunt to move them to second and third with just one out. That signaled the end of Dueitt's day in favor of Clayton. Desperately needing a strikeout, the redshirt freshman delivered against Cesar Nicholas in perhaps the key at-bat of the year against Auburn.
"I was throwing down there and Coach (David) Symanksi said, 'You're only mission is to strike this guy out,'" Clayton said. "I came to the mound and Renfroe was like 'You're throwing him all sliders and he knows it so get them over the plate and do what you can.'"
But there was still one out to be had and that was left up to Hughey. Facing the left-hander John Kaye, he coaxed a pop-up to Schade at first to end the inning and set the stage for yet another dramatic victory.
"Kenny Clayton and Arnold Hughey, gosh two freshmen," Auburn coach Steve Renfroe said."We were going for the punch-out, he knew it, they knew it and they knew what was coming. That's the thing. He knew what he was going to get, that hitter did, and he's trying to hit it and couldn't. Then Arnold comes in and gets after a lefty and gets out of it. That gave us a lift."
Eric Brandon pitched on Sunday.
Hughey earned the win for the Tigers, improving his record to 2-2 on the year while Ranson picked up the loss to drop to 0-3. Auburn starter Eric Brandon pitched five and two/thirds innings on Sunday, allowing six hits and three runs while striking out six. Vanderbilt starter Jeremy Sowers went nine complete innings and allowed 12 hits and six earned runs.
The Tigers wasted little time getting ahead on Sunday. In the bottom of the first, Schuerholz led things off with an infield single and advanced to second when Vanderbilt's Nicolas threw the ball wild to first base. Sean Gamble did his job up next as he hit a ground ball to the right side that advanced Schuerholz to third base. Javon Moran was due up next and the sophomore hit a ground ball to the shortstop that easily scored Schuerholz from third with the first run of the game.
Auburn then produced something the Tigers haven't done a lot of in quite a while--a two-out rally. Huddleston singled to left to bring the suddenly hot Pratt to the plate. Pratt delivered with a double to right field that sent Huddleston to third and brought Hulett to the plate. Continuing to deliver, the second baseman singled up the middle to score both Huddleston and Pratt for the quick 3-0 Tiger lead.
That would hold up as Brandon would cruise through the early part of the game. Mixing in a lively fastball with a wicked slider, the sophomore kept the Vanderbilt offense in check and allowed his teammates to try to peck away at the talented freshman Sowers. That would pay off in the fifth.
With one out, Schuerholz singled but was picked-off by Sowers, his second pick-off of the game. Gamble hit a seemingly harmless single with two outs, but the Tigers put something together as a Moran single and Huddleston walk set the table for Pratt. Once again the senior came through, this time ripping a double down the left field line that cleared the bases giving Auburn the 6-0 lead. But the Commodores would fight back scoring three runs in both the sixth and eighth innings to send this game to extra-innings.
The Tigers are off until playing Georgia next weekend at Plainsman Park for a crucial three-game series. Game times are 6:30 on Friday night, 3 p.m. on Saturday and 1:30 Sunday afternoon.