Tigers Get Back On Track With Victory

Auburn, Ala.--Auburn pitchers allowed just two runs on six hits as the Tigers got back on the winning track with a 7-2 victory over Appalachian State Tuesday night at Plainsman Park.

Outfielder Russell Dixon had three hits and three runs batted in to lead the Auburn offense.

Auburn didn't get off to the best start on Tuesday as starting pitcher Luke Greinke lasted just three batters before leaving with an injury. Not thought to be serious, it did force the Tigers to go to the bullpen much earlier than expected to Andy Masten. With runners on first and third and just one out, Masten allowed two hits in the first to score two Mountaineer runs, but that would be it for Appalachian State the rest of the way off the junior. Coach Tommy Slater said that Masten's performance set the tone for the night.

"I was really proud of Andy," Slater said. "Sometimes when adversity occurs, guys get their opportunities. And when you get your opportunity, you need to perform. Andy certainly did that for us. He gave us more than we'd planned on. We'd planned on using him for a couple innings tonight, but he got rolling there and did a great job. I thought he and Donny (Josh Donaldson) really worked well together. Both him and (Andrew) Hall, getting us to the seventh inning."

The Tigers answered back as a two-out walk to Josh Donaldson brought first baseman Andy Bennett to the plate. Worried about a stolen base, the Mountaineers attempted to pick off Donaldson at first, but an error moved him to second. That was all that Auburn's RBI leader needed as Bennett ripped a double off the left field wall to easily score Donaldson with Auburn's first run.

Looking to increase the lead in the second the Tigers went back to work as freshmen Mike Bianucci and Ben Jones walked to get the rally going for Auburn. A bunt attempt by fellow freshman Justin Bristow didn't go as expected as he popped it up for the first out. After a Bruce Edwards ground ball moved the runners up, Tyler Johnstone singled to right field to score both runners and give Auburn a 3-2 lead. The hit extends Johnstone's streak of reaching base safely to 30 games.

"When the blooper for Johnstone dropped in, it was a sense of relief for the entire dugout," Slater said. "Andy Bennett was sitting right next to me, and he goes, ‘It's about time we finally got one of those.' The kids have been feeling like they've been getting Texas Leagued to death all season, and they felt like that lifted the lid. I was proud of our ballclub. They continued to battle and played offense pretty well tonight."

With a lead Mastin began to dominate ASU. Coming on with one out in the first, Bennett pitched four and two/thirds innings before giving way to freshman Andrew Hall. Mastin allowed just five hits while striking out six. He earned his first victory of the season with the effort.

The Tigers added some insurance in the sixth to secure the victory. Leading off shortstop Justin Bristow earned a base-on-balls and was followed by a single from Bruce Edwards to put the Auburn offense in business. Trying to bunt the runners over Johnstone put down a perfect bunt and reached first safely to load the bases with nobody out.

Struggling in recent weeks in these types of situations, Auburn finally came through as Russell Dixon singled sharply to right to score both Bristow and Edwards. Following a fly ball to right that moved Johnstone to third, a sacrifice fly by Andy Bennett plated Johnstone to make it 6-2 Tigers. Auburn added another run in the eighth inning to close out the scoring.

For the game the Tigers had just four players get hits in addition to Dixon. Johnstone, Bennett and Edwards all had two hits each while Jones added the final hit for the Tigers. On the mound relievers Hall, Peter Wiggins and Bryan Woodall pitched the last four innings to close the game for Auburn.

The Tigers return to action Friday night at 7 p.m. when they take on South Carolina in the first of three games at Plainsman Park. Opening SEC play, Auburn is hoping to build on the momentum from Tuesday night with junior Chris Dennis expected to get the start in the opener. Slater said that the outlook for Greinke is day to day as he has a pulled muscle in his shoulder suffered during Tuesday's game.

"They're going to see how he feels tomorrow and we'll see," Slater said. "We've got a couple days before Friday. Luke's a guy — he hasn't ever complained about his arm or anything and he looked real good in the first. It's a little unusual, but hopefully he'll feel good tomorrow."

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