Tigers Too Much For Bulldogs In Opener

Auburn pounded out 15 hits and gave up just one run after the first inning in a 9-4 win Friday night.

Auburn, Ala.--Luke Greinke's three hits led a 15-hit attack for the Auburn Tigers as they defeated eighth-ranked Mississippi State 9-4 Friday night at Plainsman Park. Coming on for starter Brett Butts in the fifth, Auburn freshman Paul Burnside allowed just two hits in the final four and two/thirds innings to pick up his second victory of the season. The win improves Auburn to 17-20 overall and 5-8 in SEC play while Mississippi State falls to 25-8 and 6-6 in conference action.

While Burnside's outing was very impressive, the star of the night for the Tigers was the offense. Facing MSU starter Brooks Dunn, who came into the game with a 6-1 record and an ERA of just 3.01, Auburn pushed across three runs in the first and never slowed up on the way to the victory. Coach Tommy Slater said he was proud of the way his team played offense Friday night in the win.

"You can't try to overpower a guy like Dunn," Slater said. "Dunn gets you out with soft stuff. He's not a fastball dominant guy. You run into trouble when you try to add power and overpower soft tossing guys. Some of our troubles early in the year came from us taking too big of swings and trying to add power to soft tossing guys. Today they throw a soft-tosser and our guys do a good job of just trying to but the barrel to the ball."

Mississippi State wasted little time getting to Butts in Friday night's series opener as leadoff man Brett Rea took the game's second pitch deep over the right field wall for his first home run of the season. After Edward Easley reached on a sharp single it was time for Thomas Berkery to deliver the goods for the Bulldogs. Getting a pitch to drive on 3-1, he blasted it deep to left for a two-run shot. After one half-inning of play Auburn was down 3-0 and facing one of the league's best in MSU's Brooks Dunn.

Leading off for the Tigers, Tyler Johnstone singled up the middle to get things going offensively. Following a Jeff Boutwell fielder's choice that erased Johnstone at second, Mike Bianucci hit a shallow pop up to first for the inning's second out. What appeared to be a short inning got some juice when Josh Donaldson walked to bring Andy Bennett to the plate. Going the other way with the first pitch, Bennett singled through the left side to score Boutwell. Following an error by Easley that moved the runners up, Luke Greinke singled into shallow center to score both runs and tie the game at three. Slater said that was the difference in the game as it allowed Butts and his team to settle in without pressing too much.

"Anytime you give up runs early, to be able to come back and answer offensively is huge," Slater said. "By the same standpoint once you score you don't want to go back out and give one up. Brett did go back out and get a zero for us after we put up the three-spot. Both of those things are huge. Being able to answer and putting up a zero after we answer, both of those things are big."

Burnside is congratulated by his teammates after the victory Friday night.

Butts managed a scoreless second, but Berkery again made his presence known with a solo home run with two outs in the third to give Mississippi State back the lead at 4-3. While Dunn appeared to be cruising after getting the Tigers in the bottom of the inning, Auburn would have a loud answer in the fourth.

Leading off the inning, Greinke again singled to bring Russell Dixon to the plate. Facing a tough lefty, Dixon went the other way with a pitch for a single. Hustling on the play Greinke advanced to third with nobody out. Already with a hit on the night, shortstop Justin Bristow dropped a single into right field that scored Greinke to tie the game at four. With runners on first and second catcher Jonathan Rasberry put down a bunt to move the runners up, but in the process beat it out for a single.

That would be it for Dunn as reliever Brett Cleveland came on with the bases loaded and promptly gave up a double to Johnstone that scored two and put Auburn up 6-4. The Tigers would manage just one more run as a Bianucci sacrifice fly scored Rasberry to make it 7-4 Auburn heading to the fifth.

Mississippi State would make a run in the inning, but the pitching of Burnside proved to be too much for the Bulldogs on this night. With one out in the inning Rea doubled off Butts to put MSU in business. Butts then hit Easley with a pitch to signal the end of the line for the sophomore. Burnside came on to face the hard-hitting Berkery, but after a wild pitch moved the runners up he was pitched around to load the bases with one out. A pop up and ground ball ended the inning with the Tigers still up by three.

With Burnside still cruising on the mound the Tigers took the three-run lead into the bottom of the seventh looking to put the game away. Leading off the inning, Boutwell singled up the middle on a 2-2 pitch to bring Bianucci back to the plate. Perhaps Auburn's best two-strike hitter, Bianucci delivered again in the clutch with a single to right field.

That brought Donaldson to the plate in a bunt situation. Trying to push it past Cleveland on the hill, Donaldson's bunt forced a wild throw to third. The error allowed Boutwell to score and put runners on second and third with nobody out. Bennett closed out the scoring for this game with a sacrifice fly to right field that put Auburn up 9-4. All that was left was for Burnside to continue his dominance against SEC foes. He closed out the final two innings and didn't allow a run against a conference foe for the fourth-straight outing. He said while some have been good, this one was special.

"In the last inning when the fans started clapping I got chills out there when I got the last guy out," Burnside said. "It was fun, definitely the best yet."

Friday night was the end of an era for Auburn athletics as longtime public address announcer Carl Stephens was on the microphone for the last time as Auburn's official P.A. man for the Tigers. Stephens said that the job is something he'll always remember no matter where his travels take him from this point forward.

"Of course I've still got the SEC Baseball Tournament to do, but this is my last game at Auburn after 43 years I guess," Stephens said. "I started doing Coach (Shug) Jordan's TV show in 1963 and started doing the P.A. in 1973. This is the end of a long career here. I have enjoyed every minute of it. A great bunch to work with.

"I'm going to do the tournament this year," he added. "I don't know past that point. I'm ready to play with the grandchildren on Saturdays and travel."

Auburn and Mississippi State play the second game of the series Saturday at 4 p.m. Freshman sensation Evan Crawford will be on the mound for the Tigers facing right-hander Josh Johnson for the Bulldogs.


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