"The first time back out there was going to be a little rust," Dennis said. "Even coming off surgery there's going to be little command problems, but all in all I thought it was a good day. We threw fastballs and had some success.
"It felt great," he added. "I was telling some of the guys that I wasn't nervous before the game because I felt like it was one of those things that had built up so long that I didn't believe it was here. Once I finally got back out there it was awesome."
Almost 12 months to the day since he had surgery, Dennis wasn't the overwhelming pitcher he was as a sophomore reliever for the Tigers. Throwing his fastball 87 to 88 miles per hour, Dennis relied on location on a night when he was scheduled to throw 90 pitches but was limited to just 70 through six innings.
"They said my pitch count was supposedly at 90, but I knew early in the game I was getting early contact," Dennis said. "That's why we used fastballs was to get later in the game with a low pitch count. I was actually going in there begging for another inning from the coaches, but they wouldn't let me. That's probably smart coming off surgery. They're a lot smarter than I am in that regard."
Along with Dennis relievers Clarence Nicely and true freshman Luke Greinke shut down the Keydets, giving up just three total hits. Combine that with a very solid defensive outing for a first game with just one error and Coach Tommy Slater said you have a good start to the season for a team that has a chance to improve greatly over the next three months.
"I thought we had an outstanding defensive effort," Slater said. "If you're a pitcher you should have a lot of confidence watching that game tonight. The ball is on the ground and there were a bunch of double plays turned. Tyler (Tyler Johnstone) had a great game at second base. We just did a great job defensively.
"Josh Donaldson is a very good third baseman; he's a very good catcher," he added. "He's been working hard at both positions and he really played well at third tonight. Bristow (Justin Bristow) looked good at short. If you're a pitcher on this staff and after watching that defensive effort you better come out here ready to fill up the strike zone."
For the Tigers it was a newcomer that led the way at the plate with first baseman Andy Bennett collecting three hits and two RBI on the night as they pounded out 10 hits. Senior second baseman Tyler Johnstone added two hits and two runs scored and said the game was a perfect start to the season as far as he's concerned.
"It means a lot," Johnstone said. "We've got a lot of freshman and young guys on the team that haven't really played college baseball yet. It means a lot to come out there and get the first win and play well on offense, defense. In all aspects of the game we really played well and hopefully that will continue throughout the season."
Bennett got things going for the Tigers in the second inning as he led off with a sharp single to center off VMI starter J.J. Hollenbeck. A Jeff Boutwell fielder's choice erased Bennett at second, but Derek Sain followed with a single of his own to put runners on first and second. One out later freshman catcher Ryan Jenkins was hit by a pitch to load the bases for Johnstone.
Getting a pitch to hit, Johnstone singled through the left side to score Boutwell and Sain with the game's first two runs. Hollenbeck then hit Bruce Edwards with a pitch to load the bases, but a Donaldson strikeout put an end to the Auburn rally.
Sain scores on Edwards hit-by-pitch.
The Tigers extended their lead in the bottom of the third thanks to the middle of the order. Leading off the inning Russell Dixon reached on an error by the third baseman. Andy Bennett followed with a walk to bring left fielder Jeff Boutwell to the plate. Getting a pitch to hit, Boutwell ripped a double down the left field line that scored Dixon to make it 3-0 Auburn, but VMI would get out of the inning with no further damage.
Auburn added a single run in the fourth on a sacrifice fly by Donaldson that scored Johnstone and closed the books on this one with three in the eighth. The big hit came from Bennett, who doubled home two runs with two outs to make it 7-0 Tigers.
The Keydets made a run at the Tigers in the top of the seventh inning off Nicely. Back-to-back singles to open the inning put VMI in business, but an attempted bunt by Jacobi Fields went right back to Nicely in the air for the first out of the inning. Chad Rice then hit a rocket that Bristow grabbed over his head for out number two. Nicely then got Will Smith to ground out to Donaldson at third to end the inning.
The Tigers will return to action on Saturday at 4 p.m. in game two of the series against VMI. Junior college transfer Peter Wiggins gets the start on the mound against the Keydets in his first Auburn action.