With the offense struggling to get much of anything going against UNCG starter Ryan Falcon, it was important for Burnside to have a good performance on Saturday and it was more than good. Pitching six innings Burnside allowed just four hits and no runs while striking out five. Burnside did not allow a baserunner with less than two outs.
Coach Tommy Slater says that Saturday's win was big for his club and much of the credit goes to his pitching staff and Burnside in particular.
"It was outstanding," Slater says. "Paul was really good. He really dominated the strike zone with his fastball and beat their bats throughout the game. The bottom line is we threw strikes...pitching was definitely the story of the day."
For Burnside it was his first start of the season after coming out of the bullpen the opening weekend after straining a groin during preseason practices. Also a reliever for much of his freshman season, Burnside says he's used to coming out of the pen.
"It definitely felt good to get the first start underneath the belt," Burnside says. "I have been kind of used to coming in out of the bullpen lately. Last year that's mainly all I did. To get that first start underneath me is a help and when you have somebody like Dennis coming in behind you, you are pretty confident the door is going to be shut."
In addition to Burnside both Dennis and Greinke did a solid job out of the bullpen. The two combined to pitch three innings, allowing two runs on two hits while striking out five. Dennis was particularly effective as he allowed a run on one hit in two innings and struck out four.
Finishing off the eighth inning, Dennis sprinted to the dugout giving a frenzy of high fives to teammates along the way. Excited about his performance, Dennis says it felt good to do his job and help the team get a win.
"I'm a really emotional guy and being in a shorter stint kind of fits me a little better," Dennis says. "I knew that we were going to Greinke and I knew I had done my job. I was a little too excited about it, but that's the way I'm going to be. I was really excited and pumped up about the inning."
Offensively, the Tigers didn't have a big day at the plate as Mike Bianucci and Dustin Spruill had two hits each, combining for four of Auburn's seven total hits in the game. Josh Donaldson again had a good day hitting for the Tigers with a run-scoring single and walking twice. Slater says that while the offense wasn't productive much of the reason why belongs to the UNCG pitching staff.
"From an offensive perspective I thought they pitched well today," Slater says. "I thought we had some timely hits. We executed some short game stuff that obviously for the runs we did score helped us do that."
Dustin Spruill had two hits and scored twice in Auburn's win.
Both pitchers cruised through the first three innings before the Tigers finally threatened in the fourth. With one out in the inning, Donaldson and Bianucci received back to back walks to put Auburn's offense in business. After an Andy Bennett fly ball to center field for the second out, true freshman Robert Brooks was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Unfortunately for Auburn, fellow freshman Ross Smith couldn't get the job done as his ground ball to short put an end to the Auburn threat and kept the game scoreless.
Burnside again shut down UNCG in the top of the fifth allowing his offense to finally get untracked. Leading things off freshman catcher Dustin Spruill poked a single into right field. Following a sacrifice bunt by Eric Skinner that moved Spruill to second, it looked like the inning would finish like the first four as Bruce Edwards ground out to short for the second out of the inning. The hit did move Spruill to third with two outs, bringing Greinke to the plate.
Unable to get out of the way of an inside pitch, Greinke was hit to put runners on the corners and bring Donaldson to the plate. Sitting on a fastball ahead in the count, Donaldson drilled it to left field for a single that scored Spruill with the game's first run. After both moved up on a wild pitch, Bianucci delivered the big blow of the game with a single to left field. The hit scored both Greinke and Donaldson to make it 3-0 Auburn heading to the sixth.
Donaldson scores on a Bianucci single.
Burnside would finish in style by once again holding the Spartans scoreless in the sixth. That would be the end of his day as he turned things over to Dennis to start the seventh. It wasn't the smoothest of beginnings for the senior from Madison as leadoff man Ricky Orton reached on an error by Skinner to start the inning. One out later Ricky Carrier's bloop double to left put runners on second and third with just one out. A ground ball to the right side scored Orton, but Dennis would escape with no further damage as the Tigers led 3-1.
That's the way the score would stay until the bottom of the eighth as Dennis mowed down the Spartans 1-2-3 in the top of the inning. With two outs and nobody on Spruill doubled to left field in what was seemingly a meaningless hit, but Skinner made it pay off by following with a double of his own off the base of the wall right below the scoreboard. Spruill scored on the hit to push the lead back to three at 4-1 heading to the ninth. Despite giving up a solo home run to Linney to open the ninth, Greinke would earn his first save of the season.
Auburn will go for the sweep of the series Sunday afternoon at 1:30 when sophomore Evan Crawford takes the mound for the Tigers.