Not only was it a series win on the road for the first time this season, it was also Auburn's third SEC series victory in the last four weeks. Coach Tommy Slater said that the way his team played all weekend is exciting because they came through when it mattered most. That was definitely evident late in Sunday's game with closer Luke Greinke on the mound.
Holding a 5-1 advantage heading to the eighth Greinke came on and immediately got hit hard. Giving up consecutive singles to David Cash, Brian Leclerc and Brandon McArthur to open the inning, Greinke struggled to start things in the eighth. After getting a strikeout, the freshman right-hander gave up a triple to Stephen Barton that scored two more runs and made it 5-4 Tigers with the top of the Florida order coming to the plate. Just like he's done all season Greinke toughened up when it mattered most as he got Adam Davis and Brian Jeroloman to pop up and got out of the jam leading 5-4.
Things wouldn't be easy in the ninth either as Matt LaPorta was due up first. Looking to get ahead of Florida's best hitter, Greinke came inside a little too much and hit him to put the tying run on first base. After Chris Petrie popped up on bunt attempt David Cash put a brief scare into the Tigers with a fly ball to deep left field that Jeff Boutwell fielded on the warning track. Greinke then got the final out of the game on a strikeout to secure the series victory.
"I thought our kids stayed composed," Slater said. "Greink got hit a little bit in the eighth, but the great thing about Luke Greinke is that he's going to keep filling up the strike zone. He's not afraid of contact. He realized they were hitting his fastball today so he went to the change-up and went to the slider. He was able to get them out. He just filled up the strike zone, which is what we want our guys to do."
Junior Chris Dennis earned the victory for the Tigers as he had his second-straight outstanding outing after struggling with injuries and an illness during the season. Allowing just five hits and one run in five and one/third innings, Dennis improved his record to 3-3 on the season and said that the series win was huge for this team as they continue to get better each and every time out.
"It's huge," Dennis said. "We haven't had any success on the road this year and we finally got a series here. We had not beaten Florida in two years and we took two from them this weekend. I hope it brings some confidence to these guys because we're a good ballclub. I think if we keep playing we're going to keep succeeding."
Catcher Josh Donaldson had a big day at the plate for the Tigers in the series victory over Florida.
Auburn got on the board first Sunday against Chas Spottswood thanks to some shaky Florida defense. Leading off the game second baseman Tyler Johnstone reached on a throwing error from the Gators' third baseman. Jeff Boutwell then followed suit as his ground ball to short was booted by Adam Davis to put the Tigers in business. Continuing his hot hitting, Mike Bianucci laced a double to right field that scored Johnstone and left the Tigers with runners on first and second with nobody out.
Leading RBI man Andy Bennett then produced another run as he reached on a fielder's choice that scored Boutwell to make it 2-0 Tigers. Following a Josh Donaldson pop up, a Greinke ground ball to third scored Bianucci. Given a three-run lead in the first inning, Dennis went out looking for his second-consecutive good outing in conference play.
After getting the Gators in the first Dennis would get another run to work with in the second. With one out in the inning center fielder Bruce Edwards worked a walk to get things going for the Tigers. It would prove to be huge as Johnstone followed with a double laced down the left field line. The hit scored Edwards to make it 4-0 Auburn. After moving to third on a wild pitch Johnstone was left at third as neither Boutwell nor Bianucci could score the second baseman.
Staked to the lead Dennis continued his strong pitching as he kept the Gators scoreless in the middle innings. The Tigers also got cold at the plate against reliever David Hurst and things remained the same until the Gators finally got to Dennis in the bottom of the sixth. Leading things off LaPorta worked the count full against Dennis and jumped all over a fastball for a solo home run. Following the first out of the inning Dennis walked Cash and gave up a single to Leclerc to bring his day to a close.
Hoping to keep his streak going in SEC play, reliever Paul Burnside came on with two inherited runners and just one out. After getting the first hitter of the inning on a fly ball, the true freshman walked Barber to load the bases for pinch hitter Barton. Reaching down deep, Burnside got Barton to pop up to Donaldson behind the plate for the final out of the inning. Leading 4-1 the Tigers had three innings left to win their first road series of the year and some clutch pitching by reliever Johnny Thompson helped the cause in the seventh.
With Andy Masten on for Burnside the Gators got a single by Davis and then a walk from Jeroloman to bring LaPorta to the plate. That would be it was Thompson came on to face the dangerous first baseman. All the junior did was get LaPorta to hit into a line drive double play and then strike out Petrie to end the threat. That gave the Tigers some momentum that would enable Donaldson to add an insurance run in the top of the eighth inning.
"With LaPorta coming up I just expected to get him out somehow," Thompson said. "The line drive double play was really big, especially in the situation we were in. We really just needed to get some outs. I just kept giving him outside sliders and he hit the line drive and we doubled him off. The next guy up I struck him out. I just wanted to come out there and get some outs."
Facing Florida closer Darren O-Day with one out in the inning, Donaldson knew he would have to try to guess on a pitch to have success against the dominating sidearm right-hander. Almost unhittable this season coming into the weekend, O'Day was on to try to hold the Tigers at bay and give his team a chance at victory. It wasn't happening on this day though as Donaldson blasted his sixth home run of the season. The hit would prove to be the game winner for the Tigers.
"This team really needed this win, especially on the road," Donaldson said. "It's our first series win on the road and we're excited to get to Alabama next weekend.
"Darren O'Day is probably the best closer in the SEC except for Greinke, but I'm a little bit partial. I had been 0-3 in my career and he had just wore me out. I said ‘I'm going to hunt a slider here and hopefully he'll throw me one.' He did and I was fortunate enough to hit it out of the ballpark."
Donaldson led the way for the Tigers at the plate with three hits and one RBI while Bristow added two singles for the Tigers. On the day Auburn had eight hits and received just one walk from the Florida pitchers. For the Gators Leclerc had three hits while both Davis and McArthur added two.
With the win Auburn moves into sole possession of eighth place in the SEC standings ahead of both Tennessee (7-10) and Georgia (7-11). The big move of the weekend came from the Kentucky Wildcats, who swept South Carolina to move into first place tie with the Gamecocks in the SEC East at 11-7. In the West Alabama continued it's dominance with a sweep of Vanderbilt in Tuscaloosa to improve to 13-5 overall. Vandy drops to 10-8. Ole Miss also was perfect in a sweep of LSU. The Rebels are currently 10-8 while LSU is tied for last in the SEC with Florida at 6-12. Elsewhere it was Arkansas winning two of three at Mississippi State to improve to 10-8 in SEC play while the Bulldogs are just one-half game ahead of Auburn at 8-9.