Tigers Ride Crawford To First SEC Win

Auburn scored five runs in the fourth inning on the way to its first conference win of the season.

Auburn, Ala.--Auburn snapped out of a cold streak in a big way on Sunday as starting pitcher Evan Crawford pitched seven shutout innings and first baseman Andy Bennett hit a three-run home run to lead the Tigers to a 7-1 victory over ninth-ranked South Carolina. The win improves Auburn to 11-12 overall and 1-2 in SEC play while the Gamecocks fall to 17-3, 2-1 in conference action.

In easily the most complete baseball game of the season for the Tigers, the team played almost flawless baseball and got a dominating pitching performance from Crawford. Allowing just four hits and striking out four on 114 pitches, the true freshman was the story of the game said Auburn Coach Tommy Slater.

"First of all that's just a really good South Carolina ballclub," Slater said. "I was really proud of how our ballclub competed and came out. Obviously the story was Evan Crawford going out on the mound and putting up seven zeros for us like he did. Anytime you get a pitching performance like that it gives your team a chance to win the ball game. He was really, really good today."

Crawford was outstanding all day on Sunday to earn his second victory of the season.

Earning his second win of the season, Crawford was solid all day for the Tigers as he faced trouble just twice all day. One of those came in a bases loaded situation where he struck out a South Carolina hitter looking to end the inning. He said that he just felt comfortable from the first pitch on and tried to remain loose on the mound.

"I felt good from the start," Crawford said. "I just had to throw strikes and the defense took care of the work. Coach (Matt) Myers has been working with me a little bit and telling me now to try to throw it by everybody. I have maybe turned into a pitcher instead of a thrower. I think that's helping me out a lot."

Early on the game was a pitcher's duel all the way with Crawford and South Carolina starter Forrest Beverly going toe-to-toe on the mound. It wasn't until the fourth inning that the Tigers broke through and put the game away with a five-run outburst. Leading off, Russell Dixon walked to put the Tigers in business with the heart of the order coming to the plate. Catcher Josh Donaldson then singled to bring Auburn's top RBI man Bennett up in a key spot.

After struggling for the first two days against breaking ball after breaking ball from the Gamecock pitchers, Bennett was waiting on this day to break loose. He did just that as he took the first pitch he saw deep over the right field wall for a three-run shot. It was his fifth home run of the season and gave Auburn the early lead for the first time in recent memory.

"I finally waited back on a curve ball," Bennett said. "They've been throwing me curve balls all series and I finally got the barrel on the ball. I knew I got it pretty good, but I didn't know if the wind would help it or not."

Andy Bennett leads the Tigers with five home runs and 27 RBI on the season.

The Tigers weren't done just yet in the fourth though as one out later Mike Bianucci singled to right center. A fielder's choice off the bat of Justin Bristow retired Bianucci at second, but a throwing error on the double play attempt allowed the freshman shortstop to reach second. Playing third base, Phillip Stringer then came through with a big double to right that scored Bristow to make it 4-0 Tigers.

A Bruce Edwards walk followed and that would be it for Beverly as Dan Luczak came on in relief. He wouldn't fare much better this inning though as he walked both Tyler Johnstone and Dixon to force in the fifth run of the inning. For Crawford that was the equivalent of a full body massage as he was completely in control after getting spotted five runs on the scoreboard.

"I was comfortable," Crawford said of the early innings. "It wasn't a big deal. It was just another game. I just wanted to throw strikes and let the defense play behind me and the hitters come through. It's easy from there. That changes everything. It makes it simple. Then all you have to do is get it in there and let them make the play, get back in the dugout, and let them score more runs."

The Tigers added a single run in the bottom of the sixth thanks to the bottom of the order once again. Leading off Stringer reached on an error by the South Carolina third baseman. Up next, Edwards got down quickly 0-2 and was hit by a pitch to put the Tigers in business. Playing great offensive baseball, Johnstone bunted both runs up. It paid off as a wild pitch scored Stringer from third. That would be it though as Dixon struck out and Donaldson flew out deep to center to end the threat.

In the seventh Auburn again got a run on the board as Bennett led off by earning a walk. Continuing the stellar offensive play on the day, Boutwell put down a perfect sacrifice bunt to move Bennett into scoring position for Bianucci. Getting a pitch to hit, the big freshman drilled a double off the wall in left field for a double. The hit scored Bennett to put the Tigers up 7-0.

That would be the end of the day for Crawford after Auburn's best pitching performance of the season. Reliever Bryan Woodall came on and gave up a solo home run to center fielder Michael Campbell in the eighth, but settled down to pitch a scoreless game the rest of the way as the Tigers earned their first conference victory of the season.

Bianucci and Stringer led the way for the Tigers at the plate with two hits each while Bennett had three RBI and scored twice in the game. For South Carolina, Cheyne Hurst and Justin Smoak both had two of the team's seven hits.

Auburn returns to action Tuesday night when Samford comes to Plainsman Park for a single game. Next weekend the Tigers travel to Nashville to face the Vanderbilt Commodores in a three-game series.

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