On a day when he didn't have hit best stuff, Crawford was still good enough to hold down a powerful Kentucky offense and give Auburn a chance to pull out a big victory at home. Relievers Bryan Woodall and Johnny Thompson finished the game off for the Tigers, giving up just one hit over the final four innings. Coach Tommy Slater said that following a tough loss Friday night the win was a huge one for his team.
"I thought our kids really showed a lot of character and toughness and resiliency in bouncing back and playing the way they did," Slater said. "Last night was a tough, tough, tough loss. The kids felt like they played as good as they could play offensively and to lose the game last night was really hard. They were very down, but you want them to be down after a loss. You don't want them to be happy. You expect it to hurt and sting.
"We came out today and played very well. Evan came out today and had a long first, but he pitched well and got us through five. We tried to steal one more there in the sixth, but Woodall comes in there and does a great job in the middle of the game. Then Johnny Thompson, the last two innings, I was really impressed the way he ran through their left-handed hitters in the eighth. That was really the ballgame right there. We knew once we got back around to the right-handed hitters we would be okay."
Evan Crawford leads Auburn's starters in ERA and only gave up one earned run in five innings on Saturday.
With Crawford and Kentucky starter Craig Snipp both capable of taking over a game, it was no surprise that the early innings were tough offensively for both teams. Auburn finally broke open the pitcher's duel as the middle of the order produced in a big way for Slater's club. Leading off left fielder Jeff Boutwell singled to center field to get things going. Playing right field, Mike Bianucci came through as well with a single to center to put runners on first and second with nobody out. Playing good offensive baseball, catcher Josh Donaldson sacrificed the runners over with a perfect bunt. On the play Snipp bobbled the ball allowing Donaldson to reach and load the bases with nobody out.
With three chances to score the Tigers got nothing from Andy Bennett as his fly ball to left wasn't deep enough to score Boutwell from third. Designated hitter Ryan Stanley then hit a slow roller that Snipp fielded. His only play was to tag Stanley going to first and finally Auburn was ahead 1-0. Then it was Greinke time. Getting a pitch to hit on 0-2, the freshman lined a single into center field that scored both Bianucci and Donaldson to make it 3-1 Tigers.
"I had two strikes on me and I was just choking up looking to protect the plate," Greinke said. "He threw me a pitch right down the middle. I guess he messed up there because I hit it."
Crawford got himself into a jam in the fifth as he began to show signs of tiring out on a warm Saturday afternoon. Facing number nine hitter Ryan Wilkes, Woodall walked him and followed with a walk to Shaun Lehmann to put the Wildcats in business. Just like he had done all day though, Crawford pitched himself out of the jam by getting back-to-back pop-ups from Cowgill and Strieby before a fly ball to Greinke in center by McKinney put an end to the Kentucky threat.
Although he escaped in the fifth, Crawford wouldn't make it through the same jam in the sixth. Once again walking the first two hitters, the Prattville native was done for the day after throwing 11 pitches. Turning the ball over to fellow freshman Bryan Woodall, the Tigers were looking for a clutch pitching performance and they got just that. After a sacrifice bunt moved the runners over a Bertram ground ball scored Shelby from third for Kentucky's first run. A Wilkes fly ball to Boutwell in left brought the inning to a close with Auburn holding on to a 3-1 lead.
Cruising on the mound with Woodall getting through the seventh and Thompson shutting down the Wildcats in the top of the inning, the Tigers put the finishing touches on the victory in the bottom of the eighth. Leading off the inning Bennett reached on an infield single and was followed by a single to left by Stanley that moved pinch runner Derek Sain to second with nobody out. Following a sacrifice bunt by Greinke, Bristow struck out for the second out of the inning but a wild pitch from reliever Zach Dials scored Sain from third to make it 4-1 Tigers. An infield single by pinch hitter Josh Stapleton then scored Stanley to give Auburn a cushion heading into the final inning of play.
Now up four Thompson went out and shut the door on the Wildcats in the ninth to earn his second save of the season. The junior said that he felt good matching up against Kentucky and he's thankful for the chance to help the team get a huge victory.
"It was real tight and we just wanted to go out there and throw strikes and give our defense a chance," Thompson said. "I think I did a pretty good job of that. The defense did a heck of a job behind us the whole game. Crawford did a heck of a job carrying us into the sixth. We took it. We hit all day and played the field all day. We did a good job.
"We're getting a lot more companionship on this team," he added. "We're practicing every day and we're working our butts off. It's starting to come together offensively, defensively and pitching. It's all coming together and working for us. We're looking pretty good right now."
Auburn and Kentucky get together for the final game of the three-game set Sunday at 1 p.m. with junior Chris Dennis on the mound against Greg Dombrowsy for the Wildcats.