"The kids came out and played very well and what an outstanding pitching performance by Clarence Nicely," Slater said. "He came out and just dominated the strike zone and really got us into the game. That's the name of the game. I'm really proud of Clarence and the effort he gave us."
Staking the Tigers to a 3-0 lead, Nicely had a career outing Tuesday night. In five and a third innings the sophomore gave up just three hits and struck out a career high eight hitters. Still it almost wasn't enough as a late scare by South Alabama almost stole a win from the Tigers.
The game was in Auburn's control all night until two runs by the Jaguars in the eighth inning brought South Alabama to within one heading to the ninth. With reliever David Doss on for the Jaguars, the Tigers got off to a good start in the inning as Russell Dixon picked up his second hit of the night, this time a double to get things going. Shortstop Justin Bristow was then hit by a pitch and forced to leave the game in favor of Phillip Stringer.
With runners on first and second and nobody out, pinch hitter Ben Jones' bunt was too strong and Doss threw out Dixon at third for the first out of the inning. Doss then hit Tyler Johnstone with a pitch to load the bases with one out and bring Jeff Boutwell to the plate. Already with a solo home run in the game, Boutwell hit a ground ball to short that South Alabama's Guillermo Martinez fielded. He went to the bag for one out and threw to first. The throw was initially ruled to have pulled the first baseman off the bag, but an overrule by the home plate umpire changed the call to a double play to end the inning. The change took a run off the board for the Tigers and brought the ire of Slater, who was thrown out of the game over the call.
That would bring Luke Greinke on in the ninth looking for the save. Leading off the inning Lance Heisler reached on an infield single to give the Jaguars some life. A bunt by Joel Collins then moved the runner to second with one out and pinch hitter Michael Cart coming to the plate. After getting ahead 0-2 Greinke threw a wild pitch that moved Heisler to third with one out. The freshman answered the first bell as he got Cart on strikes for out number two and then got leadoff man Tyler Jones to ground out to seal the victory for the Tigers.
"The good news is that we had Luke Greinke ready to come in the game," Slater said. "He's capable of striking guys out and getting ground balls, and that's what he did for us. They did take a run off the board, but I don't really want to comment on the play. You know how I felt about it because I didn't get to watch the end of the game. Let's just say I disagreed with the decision that was made."
Jeff Boutwell scored two of Auburn's three runs against the Jaguars.
The Tigers got on the board first as Johnstone led off the game with an infield single. Up next, Boutwell hit a ground ball to the shortstop that appeared to be a double play, but he beat the throw to first. It would prove to be important as later with two outs in the inning Andy Bennett doubled off the fence in right field to score Boutwell with the game's first run.
In the third it was again Boutwell that was responsible for an Auburn run. Coming to the plate looking for a pitch to drive, the senior hit his first home run of the season to left field. The blast made it 2-0 Tigers with Nicely in a groove.
That's the way things would remain for several innings as Nicely came out of the gate firing on all cylinders against the Jaguars. Allowing just one hit in the first three innings, Nicely's pitching set the stage for the Tigers to add to the lead in the fourth. Leading off, Bennett struck out but reached on a wild pitch. A Donaldson walk put the Tigers in business with Luke Greinke coming to the plate.
Auburn's best bunter, Greinke put down a perfect bunt that the pitcher was forced to field. Rushing his throw, he threw the ball away at third. The error allowed Bennett to score and left runners on second and third with still nobody out. Unfortunately that would be all the Tigers would score as back-to-back strikeouts and a ground ball brought the inning to a close with Auburn up 3-0.
That's where Nicely would keep things as he pitched into the sixth inning before giving way to reliever Paul Burnside with runners on first and second with nobody out. Just like he has done with regularity in recent games, Burnside quickly got the Tigers out of the jam with a strikeout and a liner to Russell Dixon in right field to end the inning and the South Alabama threat.
After a scoreless seventh the Tigers went back out in the eighth with Peter Wiggins looking to keep the lead at three. It wouldn't happen on this night as a one-out single by Patrick Weaver got things rolling for the Jaguars. A walk to USA's top hitter David Freese brought big first baseman Jeff Cunningham to the plate. Getting a pitch to hit, Cunningham drove it into the gap for a double to cut the lead to just one. It was Thompson time at that point as the junior came on to strike out Aaron George and get Doss on a ground ball to end the inning with Auburn up one. The stage was set for a dramatic finish to Auburn's victory.
Auburn returns to action this weekend when the Tigers take on Mississippi State at Plainsman Park. The Bulldogs enter the weekend ranked eighth in the country and are coming off a series win over Georgia last weekend. Game times are 7 p.m. on Friday, 4 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday.