Hulett Leads Tigers To Victory Over USA

Auburn held South Alabama to just eight hits as the Tigers defeated the nationally-ranked Jaguars 6-4.

Auburn, Ala.--Close games are nothing new to this Auburn baseball team so when freshman Tug Hulett stepped to the plate in the bottom of the seventh inning with two runners aboard and the Tigers trailing by one run there was no need to worry.

All he did was take a 2-2 fastball with two outs deep to right center field for a triple off South Alabama's Eric Thomast hat scored two runs to give Auburn the lead for good on the way to a 6-4 win Tuesday night at Plainsman Park. The victory gives the Tigers the series sweep over the Jaguars and moves their record to 33-20 while 15th-ranked South Alabama falls to 36-15.

"That was a game time at-bat," Auburn coach Steve Renfroe said of Hulett's triple. "Your down a run against that guy throwing--that's who all the (pro) scouts were here to see. To get on top of one his fastballs to drive it deep enough to get a triple out of it is pretty significant."

But Hulett wasn't finished. During Thomas' time on the mound the Auburn coaches had detected that they would be able to steal bases on him because of a slow delivery. Earlier in the inning, Javon Moran had reached third base but Thomas remained in the stretch instead of pitching from the windup. This time that wasn't the case. Standing on third base, Hulett said that Renfroe told him "we're going to steal home on this guy."

He turned out to be a prophet as Hulett got his lead and when Thomas began his delivery the freshman took off for the plate. The batter, Scott Schade, got the signal and took the pitch allowing Hulett to run full speed to the dish. Sliding in safely, he put the final nail in the Jaguar's coffin giving Auburn a 6-4 lead heading to the eighth inning.

"He was in the windup and I was glad Shady got the call," Hulett said with a smile. "Sometimes you miss those things and that's going through your head when you're running down there, but he did a good job. It was just one of those things that is fun to do."

That lead was held by redshirt freshman reliever Ken Clayton. Throwing his longest outing since going two and two/thirds innings at Tennessee earlier in the season, the crafty right-hander kept the Jaguars off balance all night and looked to be the same Clayton that was projected to challenge for the closer role earlier in the year.

"I felt terrible coming out of the bullpen," Clayton said with a laugh after the game. "But when I got on the mound I was locating my pitches and I did it for the rest of the game. I've been coming in for an out or two lately so it feels good to be back."

Moran tries to lay down a bunt early in Tuesday's game.

Center fielder Javon Moran led the way for the Tigers at the plate with a perfect 3-for-3 night and two runs scored. That gives him 11 multiple-hit games in his current 12-game hitting streak. Another streak was extended as well as freshman left fielder Sean Gamble had a double in the first inning to give him a 13-game hitting streak, the longest for an Auburn player since Todd Faulkner hit in 19-straight games in 2000.

For Auburn this game was decided in the seventh inning. With the score tied, South Alabama took the lead when a Kyle Hudlow wild pitch scored Shane Scoville from third base with two outs to make it 4-3 Jaguars after he had tripled earlier in the inning. The outing was Hudlow's first of the 2002 season. That forced the Tigers to come up with yet another late offensive outburst to pull out the win.

With one out Moran walked, stole second and then advanced to third when Scoville's throw bounced off Moran into left field. Bobby Huddleston was due up next and the Jaguars carefully pitched around him giving him the walk to get the force back in order. It didn't help though as Huddleston alertly moved to second on a wild pitch with Trent Pratt at the plate.

Following a Pratt strikeout it was up the Hulett to get the job done. Jumping on a 2-1 fastball, he drove it deep to center field putting T.J. Touchtone on his horse. Running the ball down, he got his glove on it but was unable to hold on just as he crashed into the wall. Off on the ping of the bat, both Moran and Huddleston scored easily and Hulett slid into third setting up the exciting steal of home.

Early it looked like Auburn might blow the Jaguars away as the Tigers sent nine men to the plate in the first inning, scoring three runs on four hits. Moran, Hulett and Schade all drove in runs as Auburn jumped on top early. But the Jaguars wouldn't fold facing Auburn starter Mike Mueller. A Touchtone home run to open the second inning was the first of three South Alabama would score off Mueller.

In the fourth a Scoville two-run home run tied the game for the Jaguars and starter Scott Mularz, who allowed three runs on six hits in four innings of play. But it would be all Hulett from that point forward on the way to the Auburn win.

The Tigers now prepare to finish the conference season when they travel to Arkansas to face the Razorbacks in a key Western Division showdown. Playing on the Astroturf surface, the Tigers will go indoors this week on the football practice facility to get used to the plastic before this weekend's game.

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