Bianucci Blasts Tigers Past Hofstra

Auburn freshman Mike Bianucci had an unforgettable debut in a Tiger uniform Friday night.

Auburn, Ala.--Auburn true freshman Mike Bianucci had to wait two weeks to make his debut for the Tigers, but he entered the program in grand fashion Friday night with a three-run walk-off home run in the bottom of the 10th inning as Auburn defeated Hofstra 9-8 at Plainsman Park.

Out after spraining an ankle two days before the season opener against VMI, Bianucci got his first college action as the designated hitter and ruined Hofstra's night. In five at-bats Bianucci had two home runs, a double, a single and six runs batted in. In what has to be one of the greatest debuts in school history as far as baseball is concerned, Slater said Bianucci impressed him with his toughness as much as anything.

"It was a pretty nice debut for Mike," Slater said. "Obviously he's got a lot of power and he's an explosive kid, but what was really impressive about him tonight to me was he was getting into some two-strike counts and fouling pitches off. He's not just a mad hacker up there. The kid knows how to hit."

That could be the understatement of the year as far as the Auburn baseball team is concerned. Facing a team that got swept last weekend at North Carolina State, the Tigers got off to a dreadful start and trailed 6-0 after three innings of play. Bianucci said that while his performance was special the credit should go to the whole team.

"It was a great day," Bianucci says. "Unbelievable. You couldn't ask for a better day. The important thing was the guys ahead of me getting on so we could get some runs. I had some big-time nerves and some of the senior guys just grabbed me and told me to relax. That really helped."

Before Bianucci could deliver his final death blow to the Pride first the Tigers had to climb out of one last hole on this night. With the game tied at six heading into extra innings Auburn appeared to be in good shape with reliever Peter Wiggins on the mound. Unfortunately he had to face Hofstra's Anthony Sarno in the inning. Already with a home run and a triple on the night, Sarno hit a long home run with one runner on base to put Hofstra up 8-6 and put the pressure right back on Auburn.

That proved to be just fine for the Tigers as first baseman Andy Bennett doubled to right field to open the inning. It was Bennett's third hit of the night and immediately put Hofstra reliever Jeff Denlea in a bind.

Pinch hitter Josh Stapleton followed with a single as well to put the tying run on base with nobody out.

Following pinch hitter Ben Jones' liner to center for the first out of the inning, Bianucci got one last piece of advice before stepping into the box to face Denlea.

"Boutwell and some of the older guys had been telling me to sit back the whole game because they had been throwing off-speed the whole game," Bianucci said. "I was going up there and Nonemaker (Karl Nonemaker) told me that this guy was going to throw me off-speed most likely for the first pitch. He threw a curveball right there. As soon as I saw the left fielder walking back in I knew that was it."

Bianucci's teammates mob him at home plate following his game winning home run.

Hofstra got off to a fast start against Auburn starter Chris Dennis, scoring a single run in the second inning on a solo home run off the bat of Anthony Sarno before exploding in the third.

With one out in the inning Dennis walked leadoff hitter Josh Stern to put the Pride in business. Outfielder Nick Panzarella followed with a sacrifice bunt that Dennis threw high to first base. The play allowed both runners to reach safely and set the table for leading hitter Ricky Caputo.

Working the count full against Dennis, Caputo fisted an inside fastball just inside the left field foul line for a double. The hit scored both runners to put Hofstra up 3-0. Following a fly out to right field, designated hitter Matt Kougasian earned a walk from Dennis to bring Sarno back to the plate. Proving to be a thorn in Auburn's side, Sarno tripled to right field to score two more and make it 5-0 Hofstra.

Reliever Clarence Nicely came on to finish the inning, but not before giving up a single to Andrew Campana to score Sarno for the final run of the frame. Trailing 6-0 Auburn would be on the comeback trail the rest of the way.

It started in the fourth as first baseman Andy Bennett singled to open the inning and advanced to second on an error by Hofstra pitcher Ryan Dunn. Left fielder Jeff Boutwell followed with a single of his own up the middle to give the Tigers some life and move Bennett to third. Following a pop up on the infield by Russell Dixon, Bianucci hit a ground ball to short to score Bennett with the Tigers' first run.

Auburn made its move in the bottom of the fifth inning thanks to production out of the top of the batting order. Leading off the inning catcher Jonathan Rasberry earned a walk to bring Tyler Johnstone to the plate. Hitting a sharp grounder to the bag at third, Johnstone just beat the throw from second to avoid the double play. That proved to be big as Bruce Edwards followed with a double to right center.

It was the first of three straight doubles off the bat of Tiger hitters as Josh Donaldson banged a double off the green monster in left field to score both Johnstone and Edwards and make it 6-3 Hofstra. First baseman Andy Bennett then ripped a double of his own into left that scored Donaldson. Just like that Auburn had the lead down to just two and the Tigers weren't finished.

It looked like the lead would continue to dwindle in the sixth inning as Bianucci drilled a fastball to the opposite field for a double to lead off the inning. Following a Justin Bristow fly ball to deep right that moved him to third base, Bianucci was stranded to end the inning as both Rasberry and Johnstone failed to score him. Later he would make more noise though to lead the Tigers to victory

On the mound it was a tough night for Dennis as he allowed four hits and six runs in just two and two/thirds innings. Coming on in relief, Nicely did a very good job of keeping the Pride at bay as he gave up just two hits and no runs in two and one/third innings. The performance of the night on the mound was by Johnny Thompson. The junior college reliever gave up just one hit in three innings. Wiggins earned the victory, but gave up two runs on four hits in two innings.

The Tigers and Pride meet again on Saturday at 2 p.m. with sophomore Brett Butts on the hill for Auburn against senior David Huth for Hofstra.

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