Auburn, Ala.--In a game that was a struggle for much of the day it was again Josh Donaldson that proved to be too much offensively for the Hofstra Pride as the junior catcher had two home runs, a double, and drove home five to lead the Auburn Tigers (2-0) to an 11-7 victory Saturday afternoon at Plainsman Park.
True freshman Ross Smith and senior Phillip Stringer added two hits each as the Tigers struck for 12 hits on the day against five Hofstra pitchers. Freshman Robert Brooks had another good day with a hit and three RBI but Slater says the story of the day was the offensive production from Josh Donaldson.
"With Josh the whole thing since he's gotten here is that when he's locked in he's hitting the ball to right center," Slater says. "When he's hitting the ball to right center the whole field opens up to him. I think he'll be the first to admit having Mike (Bianucci) behind him really protects him, it really helps him. Josh is getting some pitches to hit and he's going a really good job of taking what they are giving him."
For much of Saturday's game the action was back and forth between the Tigers and the visiting Pride as both teams held the lead on two different occasions. A run by Auburn in the bottom of the sixth inning tied the score at six and gave the Tigers a chance to break open the game one inning later.
Tied at six in the bottom of the seventh inning Auburn was looking to break things open and at least for the first two days there is nobody better to have doing that job than Donaldson. With one out third baseman Phillip Stringer decided to put the pressure on the defense by laying down a perfect bunt to third base. Beating the throw for a single, Stringer gave the Tigers some life and they came through with a big inning to put the game away.
Up next Bruce Edwards worked a walk from the Hofstra reliever to bring Luke Greinke to the plate. Getting a pitch to drive the opposite way, Greinke lined a single to right that easily scored Stringer to put Auburn back ahead by one. Donaldson then delivered the first of back to back death blows to Hofstra as he drove a fastball deep over the right field wall for a three-run shot. The second home run of the day from Donaldson made it 10-6 Tigers.
Sophomore sensation Mike Bianucci followed with a deep blast of his own to center field that was well over 400 feet. The bomb made it 11-6 Tigers and relievers Scott Shuman and Chris Dennis made it stand up to earn the victory. Although it wasn't a perfect pitching day from starter Justin Bristow, Slater says that Shuman, Dennis and Johnny Thompson performed well out of the bullpen to help in the win. They combined for four and two/thirds innings of work and gave up just three hits and one run. Shuman gave up just one hit in two innings while striking out three.
"Our guys were very calm and there was no panic whatsoever," Slater says. "They believe in each other. Justin was a little shaky in his first college start but our guys believe in his stuff. They knew once he settled down he would give us some innings and he did. When Johnny Thompson goes into the game the whole teams knows that he's going to get a double play ball. That's his role. He does that and throws a nice sixth. Shuman, I told you guys that he would remind you of John Madden. That is power stuff from a lower arm angle. It is really good and he overmatched their hitters today. That is what he did to our hitters all January."
Bristow game up 10 hits and six earned runs in four and one/third innings of work Saturday.
On the mound as a starter for the first time in almost two years after arm problems kept him strictly at shortstop as a freshman, Bristow struggled early to find his rhythm and Hofstra took advantage of that to take the early lead. Leading things off shortstop Chris Menstrasti singled up the middle on Bristow's first pitch of the game. Bristow then suffered a bit of wildness as he hit both Tom Legregni and Nick Panzarella to load the bases with nobody out. Back to back ground ball outs by Hofstra produced two runs and Patrick Rogers would end the scoring in the first with a double to left that scored Panzarella to make it 3-0 Pride after one half inning of play.
Auburn answered back in the bottom of the first and once again Donaldson was at the bottom of things. With one out in the inning Greinke reached on an error by the Hofstra shortstop to bring Donaldson to the plate. Getting a pitch to hit Donaldson drove it deep to left center for a double. Greinke scored on the play to cut the Hofstra lead to 3-1 after one.
After Hofstra pushed the lead back to three on a pair of infield singles and a wild pitch in the second, Auburn took its first lead in the bottom of the third inning. With one out Donaldson again provided the spark with a long solo homer to left field that just missed clearing the scoreboard. Back to back walks to Bianucci and Andy Bennett gave the Tigers base runners for standout freshman Robert Brooks and he delivered with a double to left that scored both runs to tie the game at four. Fellow freshman Eric Skinner had a good birthday present to himself and the team with a double to right center that plated Brooks to make it 5-4 Tigers.
Bennett scores behind Bianucci after a double by Brooks.
The Pride would respond off Bristow in the top of the fifth as Panzarella led things off with a single to left. A fielder's choice retired Panzarella but left Felix Adamkiewicz at first and that would be big as Matt Prokopowicz doubled to right field to score the tying run and Rogers followed with a single to score him and give Hofstra the 6-5 lead.
Once again Auburn answered back as Edwards singled to start the bottom of the sixth and moved to second on a walk to Greinke. It looked as if the base runners would be wasted as Auburn's two most dangerous hitters in Donaldson and Bianucci both flew out to left field. That brought Bennett to the plate and being a veteran he worked the count for a walk to load the bases and bring Brooks to the plate. Staying alive with two foul balls Brooks was hit by an inside pitch to score Edwards from third and tie the game and set the stage for some long ball heroics by the Tigers. Donaldson says that having to win a close game like Saturday's contest should be a good learning experience for the team as they get into the 2007 season.
"There are going to be grinds in baseball everybody knows that," Donaldson says. "It's a 56-game schedule and there are going to be grinds throughout that season. To get this one shows guys that we have the capability to put some man power up to win games. Our pitching can dominate when our bullpen gets in there as you saw today. It's good for them to see that."
The final game of the three-game set is scheduled for 1:30 Sunday afternoon as the Tigers look for the sweep against Hofstra at Plainsman Park. True freshman Austin Hubbard will take the mound for the Tigers in his first collegiate start.