"I am very proud of how our players competed and came back and came back and kept fighting back," Slater said. "They just kept getting after them. That's a good South Carolina ballclub and we've got to be a little cleaner defensively throughout the game. We had some defensive miscues throughout the game that cost us some runs. Otherwise we win that game. I'm very proud of our team. They kept competing and coming back when they were down."
Things looked bleak for the Auburn Tigers as they trailed by two runs heading to the bottom of the ninth against the Top 10 Gamecocks. This young team wasn't supposed to respond. They hadn't shown that trait all season. Friday night they did just that with two runs in the ninth to send a game to extra innings that all thought was lost just two innings earlier.
Leading off the ninth, center fielder Bruce Edwards was looking to make amends for an earlier error in the game that cost the Tigers a run. He did his part by getting hit by a pitch to give the Tigers the tying run at the plate. It looked like it would be for nothing as back-to-back outs put Auburn in a hole, but a two-out single by Josh Donaldson brought Andy Bennett to the plate looking to end the game.
He didn't quite do that, but down 0-2 in the count he took a hanging fastball and drilled it deep into the gap in right-center field for a double. The hit easily scored both Edwards and Donaldson to tie the game at five and send it to extra innings.
That's when the craziness ensued for both teams. With reliever Peter Wiggins on in relief for the Tigers, the Gamecocks suddenly became very patient at the plate. That resulted in a leadoff walk by Reese Havens. Pinch hitter Trent Cline then put down a bunt that Auburn couldn't field. It resulted in a single to put runners on first and second with nobody out. A sacrifice bunt moved the runners over and Wiggins got the next South Carolina hitter, but a single followed by an error allowed three Gamecock runs to score as they led 8-5 going to the bottom of the 10th.
Auburn wasn't done though as once again they responded when their backs were to the wall. Leading off freshman Justin Bristow walked and that put the pressure on the South Carolina hurlers as back-to-back walks to Ben Jones and Bruce Edwards loaded the bases with nobody out. Up next, Tyler Johnstone hit a high-hopper that just went under the shortstop's glove for an infield single. Bristow scored on the play to cut the lead to just two.
A Russell Dixon single to left field came next and scored Jones to cut the lead to one. With nobody out Edwards was held at third. It looked like a bad move as Donaldson popped up to the catcher for out one. Derek Sain then stepped to the plate and that provided the backdrop for the final run of the inning as Edwards scored on a passed ball to tie the game. Sain would strike out for the inning's second out and Jeff Boutwell would walk to load the bases once again with two outs. Looking to be the hero, Mike Bianucci hit a fly ball to right to end the inning. South Carolina broke through with four runs on five hits in the top of the 12th to finally put the game away for good.
Early in the game South Carolina took advantage of a rusty Chris Dennis to get on the board first. Leading off Cheyne Hurst hit a ground ball that Justin Bristow fielded for the first out of the inning. Second baseman Chris Brown followed with a single to put the Gamecocks in business. Riding a 10-game hitting streak, third baseman Neil Giesler singled as well to bring powerful Robbie Grinestaff to the plate.
Being careful with the big hitter, Dennis walked to designated hitter to bring Michael Campbell up. The veteran delivered in the clutch with a sacrifice fly into center field that easily scored Hurst. A Justin Smoak fly ball to Dixon in right field put an end to the inning with South Carolina scoring just one run.
After that Dennis settled in as did South Carolina starter Arik Hempby. Neither team did anything offensively until the bottom of the third when one swing of the bat got the Tigers off the mat. With two outs in the inning catcher Donaldson came to the plate to face Hempby for the second time. Getting a pitch to drive, Donaldson blasted the ball over the scoreboard for his second home run of the season. With the game tied at one Dennis went back to work.
All was good on the mound until Dennis again faced a little adversity in the fifth following a leadoff walk to Hurst. After moving to second on a sacrifice bunt Hurst went to third on an infield single by Giesler. Looking for a ground ball to get out of the inning, Dennis got just what the doctor ordered as Grinestaff lined a grounder to Andy Bennett at first base. Throwing the shortstop Bristow for one, Bennett took the return throw for the double play. Leaving the field pumped up, the Tigers took the lead in the bottom of the inning.
Leading off the bottom of the fifth, center fielder Bruce Edwards put down a perfect bunt to reach first base and put the Tigers in business. Following a fly ball to center by Johnstone and a stolen base by Edwards, Dixon delivered at a key time with a single to left-center that scored the speedy Edwards to give Auburn the lead.
That is the way things stood until the top of the seventh. With reliever Bryan Woodall in the game after coming in for Dennis in the sixth, South Carolina finally got to Auburn with the help of some very shaky Tiger defense. Leading off, number nine hitter Mark Stanley ripped a double just inside the third base bag to get things going. A failed bunt attempt by Hurst left Stanley at second with one out for the middle of the USC order.
Already with a hit on the night, Brown singled to center field to score Stanley and tie the game at two. Coming up with the ball cleanly, Edwards' throw from center field was off the mark allowing Brown to reach second just ahead of the throw from cut-off man Bennett. After striking out Giesler, Woodall appeared to be out of the inning as he got Grinestaff to fly out to center, but after making a long run to get to the ball Edwards dropped it in center field. The two-base error allowed Brown to score the go-ahead run for the Gamecocks. They would add two more runs in the seventh to seemingly put the game away, but there was plenty of baseball left in this classic duel.
Not done scoring, South Carolina added two more in the top of the eighth, but Auburn would answer back with a single run in the inning. That set the stage for the dramatic ending on Friday night as the Tigers came up just short in their bid for the opening night win.
Donaldson led the way for the Tigers with three hits while Dixon and Bristow each added two. For the night the Tigers had 12 hits and left 14 runners on base. South Carolina was led by Brown and Kline, who each had three hits.
The teams return to action on Saturday at 4 p.m. in game two of the series. It can be seen live on Comcast Sports Southeast.