Auburn, Ala.--The Auburn Tigers completed a three-game sweep of visiting UNC Greensboro on Sunday afternoon as starting pitcher Evan Crawford and relievers Justin Bristow and Scott Shuman allowed just one run on five hits in the Tigers' 4-1 victory. The win moves Auburn to 6-1 on the season while UNCG falls to 0-3.
Despite getting just six hits on the day, the Tigers got the job done at the plate at the biggest times on Sunday. Bunting runners over, stolen bases and getting timely hits are things that last year's team struggled with but on Sunday that was the story as freshman Ross Smith and his two hits were just enough to get the job done. Coach Tommy Slater says it's nice to be able to talk about winning a game after getting just six hits.
"With the way we're pitching and the way we're playing defense it's nice to not have to go out and score nine or 10 runs every time out," Slater says. "Our kids have shown that there have been games where we've been able to go out and pound the ball and score a lot of runs. We've also had games where we needed to use the short game. Today was one of those days. Our kids did a nice job of manufacturing some runs using the short game. Pitching and defense, it feels good to talk to you about how good our pitching is and how good our defense is.
Continuing a trend of strong performances was Auburn's pitching staff. In his first start of the season Crawford was solid as he picked up his first win of the season. Going five innings before giving way to reliever Justin Bristow in the sixth, Crawford allowed just one run on five hits while striking out five hitters. Bristow and Shuman then pitched a perfect final four innings to close the door on UNCG. Slater says that once again pitching ruled the day for the Tigers.
"I thought our defense was outstanding," Slater says. "Evan was okay. He wasn't as sharp as we've seen him before. We played tremendous defense behind him. All day long I thought our defense was just outstanding. After that the bullpen was obviously the story. Bristow was just lights out for two innings. He's got a great arm and he's been trying to get more life to his fastball. You saw that today. He had great life on his fastball. He didn't give up any hard contact in his two innings. Shuman has just been great. He's been nails out of the bullpen every time out."
Both Crawford and UNCG starter Matt Gibbs cruised early as both teams went scoreless in the first three innings. That almost ended in the fourth though as Crawford escaped possible disaster thanks to a play by freshman Robert Brooks at second base. With one out in the inning UNCG loaded the bases on a walk and back-to-back singles. That brought catcher Adam Deleo to the plate. Getting a pitch to drive to the opposite field, Deleo drilled a liner that looked to be headed into right field. His only problem was that Brooks was at second base. Getting up high, Brooks snared the liner and threw to second for the inning ending double play. Slater says the play shows the kind of ability the Enterprise native brings to the park every day.
"Robert, this weekend alone, my goodness," Slater says of his freshman second baseman. "A couple of dives in the four hole (between second and first base) and then the double play today. The kid really has bounce. What can you say, he's just a very gifted kid. It's fun to watch him play, it really is. That play was tremendous but a couple of times he went to the hole and to his backhand. He's just got great range. He's a heck of an athlete and a pretty good baseball player."
Robert Brooks scores for the Tigers. The freshman had several great defensive plays in the weekend series.
After Brooks' play allowed Crawford to escape in the fourth, he wouldn't be as fortunate in the fifth as he struck out Corey Overholtzer to start the inning only to see him reach on a passed ball charged to freshman Dustin Spruill. Crawford then made a mistake as he fielded a bunt by Tim Carrier and threw to second to try to get the lead runner. He was safe and just like that the Spartans had first and second with nobody out.
Josh Donaldson helped Crawford as he pulled off the play Crawford attempted as the bunt by Greg Feltes was too strong and Donaldson cut down Carrier at second to leave runners on the corners with one out. An infield single by Guy Welsh then scored Overholtzer with the game's first run. That would be all for UNCG though as Spruill picked Welsh off first and Joel Johnson struck out to end the inning.
Just like they've done all weekend the Tigers answered back in the fifth with the freshmen leading the way. With one out in the inning Brooks hit a ground ball to Welsh at third. Rushing because of Brooks' speed, Welsh bobbled the ball and then threw high at first allowing Brooks to advance to second. That was huge as Smith followed with a single to center field to score Brooks and tie the game at one.
Showing his speed, Smith immediately stole second. Moments later Spruill walked to bring yet another freshman Eric Skinner to the plate. Getting a pitch to hit Skinner drilled a single to center field to score Smith and move Spruill to third. The final run of the inning came on a Bruce Edwards ground ball that UNCG tried to turn two on instead of getting the runner at the plate. Edwards beat the throw to first to allow Spruill to score and just like that Auburn led 3-1.
Ross Smith crosses the plate to give the Tigers the lead with Bruce Edwards ready to give him a high five.
That would bring on Bristow for the sixth and that was the end of the day for the Spartan offense as the sophomore dominated hitters for two innings before giving way to Shuman in the eighth. The freshman mowed down UNCG in the top of the inning and Auburn added an insurance run in the bottom half as pinch hitter Ben Jones singled to start the frame and moved to third on a ground rule double by Donaldson. A Mike Bianucci sacrifice fly closed the scoring for the day as the Tigers won 4-1 to complete the sweep. Shuman closed out the ninth for his first save of the season.
Auburn returns to action Tuesday at 3 p.m. when the Troy Trojans come to Plainsman Park. Winners over Arkansas and Alabama this season the Trojans will be the biggest test to date for the Tigers. True freshman Taylor Thompson (1-0) will get the start for the Tigers.