Friday night was all about pitching for both teams as early trouble by Auburn starter Brett Butts cost the Tigers dearly as LSU scored four runs through four innings. LSU starter Clay Dirks was more dominant, allowing just two runs on six hits in six and one/third innings to pick up his fourth win of the season.
Despite falling behind early Auburn was still in good shape in the late innings thanks to the pitching of relievers Paul Burnside and Andy Masten. Pitching the last six and one/third innings, the duo allowed just one unearned run on three hits while striking out three. It was because of their pitching and a never say die attitude that Auburn still had a chance late.
"A lot of credit to our players," Coach Tommy Slater said. "The bullpen did an outstanding job of keeping us in that game and from the fifth inning on there is a lot of zeros on their side and some runs scored on our side. We put ourselves in position to have a chance to win there. Give our kids credit for the way they battled back. Donaldson with the big home run in the eight and had a tremendous double play in the ninth to keep the score the way it was. We got our guys to the plate that we wanted to get to the plate there late."
Down three runs heading to the bottom of the seventh inning Auburn got the offense going as Justin Bristow singled to left field to get things going. It was one of four hits for the freshman shortstop on the night and gave his team the life they had been looking for. Third baseman Phillip Stringer then reached on an error and both runners advanced on a sacrifice bunt by Bruce Edwards to get into scoring position for Tyler Johnstone. Doing his job, Johnstone hit a ground ball to the right side to score Bristow and cut LSU's lead to just two.
Justin Bristow's four hits were a career high.
With Masten dealing on the mound the Tigers came back with a single run in the eighth as Josh Donaldson hit a solo shot over the wall in left field to cut the lead to just a single run with one inning remaining. Donaldson wasn't through on this night though as he came up with the play of the night in the field in the ninth. With a runner on first and nobody out Matt Liuzza ripped a one-hopper to third that Donaldson dove and caught. He then turned and threw to Johnstone at second and he completed the double play. Donaldson's play at third saved a run and gave Auburn a chance to tie or win the game in the ninth.
With two outs and nobody on in the bottom of the ninth Auburn's Luke Greinke came to the plate looking to just reach and he did just that against LSU closer Chase Dardar as he was hit by a pitch. That rallied the Tigers as Mike Bianucci followed with a single to left field to bring Donaldson to the plate with a chance to give Auburn the win. It wasn't to be on this night though as Donaldson hit a slow roller and was thrown out at first to end the game.
Early on Butts survived the first two innings unscathed despite giving up a walk in each, but he wouldn't be as fortunate in the third as LSU finally got on the board. It didn't take long in the inning before Will Harris would make his presence known as he hit Butts' first pitch deep over the left field wall for a solo home run. It was his sixth of the season and gave the visiting Tigers the early lead.
The hit seemed to shake up Butts to some extent as Bruce Sprowl followed with a sharp single to left. Following a sacrifice bunt by Michael Hollander that moved Sprowl to second Butts walked J.T. Wise to put himself in a tough position. The problems only got worse as big Quinn Stewart singled to left field to load the bases with one out and Liuzza coming to the plate. A sacrifice fly made the score 2-0 LSU and Steven Waguespack singled to center to score the third run of the inning and give Dirks a cushion to work with on the mound. Burnside would come on to get the final out of the inning for Auburn, but the damage was done.
It appeared Auburn would answer back as shortstop Bristow led off the bottom of the third with a double down the left field line. Attempting to bunt him over, Stringer worked a walk from Dirks to put the Tigers in great shape. A sacrifice bunt by Edwards moved the runners to second and third, but that's where the inning would end as Johnstone struck out and Greinke ground out to end the Auburn threat.
LSU came back to add another run to its lead in the fourth off Burnside as a leadoff single by center fielder Jarred Bogany and two walks led to the run as Bogany scored on a passed ball with two outs and the bases loaded to make it 4-0. Not giving up Auburn would make another run in the bottom of the fifth. Leading things off it was again Bristow that came through, this time with a single to left. Following a sacrifice bunt attempt by Stringer that forced out Bristow at second, Bruce Edwards singled to center field to give Auburn some life.
Auburn survived near disaster as a ground ball by Johnstone to Harris at second was nearly an inning-ending double play. With a second chance the Tigers came through as Greinke singled to center field to score Stringer with Auburn's first run. Both runners then moved up on a passed ball to get into scoring position for Bianucci. Back after missing a week because of a pulled muscle, Bianucci never looked comfortable against Dirks as he struck out for the second time on the night to end the inning with Auburn trailing 4-1.
With Mississippi State and Georgia both winning Auburn now finds itself a game and a half out of eighth place in the league and two full games behind Georgia in the race for Hoover. Auburn will send freshman Evan Crawford to the mound on Saturday night at 7 p.m. to face LSU's Louis Coleman in a big game for both teams. The game can be seen live on CSS and Jumbo Sports.