Mobile, Ala.--The Auburn Tigers (10-1) pounded five home runs and completed a successful weekend in Mobile with a 20-5 destruction of South Alabama at Eddie Stanky Field. Sophomore left fielder Mike Bianucci had four hits, four RBI and his fifth home run of the season on the way to MVP honors in the Coca-Cola Classic as the Tigers finish 3-0 following victories over Jacksonville and Michigan State the first two days.
For the weekend Bianucci was absolutely on fire as he finished the three-game set 8-12 with seven runs batted in and two home runs. Coach Tommy Slater says that Bianucci's day finished up a very successful week for the big left fielder as he helped the Tigers to a 4-0 mark as they prepare for a big week ahead with a game against Samford on Tuesday and then a huge non-conference series against Arizona State next weekend at Plainsman Park.
Bianucci wasn't the only big bat in the lineup for the Tigers on Sunday as freshman shortstop Eric Skinner hit a grand slam for his first career home run while fellow freshman Ross Smith also added his first home run as part of a two-hit, three RBI performance. Sophomore catcher Ryan Jenkins added his first home run as he finished with two hits and three RBI as well. Slater says the day was a big one for his club offensively as they clicked on all cylinders in the victory highlighted by a seven-run first inning.
"Our kids came out focused and ready to go," Slater says. "It was exciting to see. Most of the balls we hit hard and out of here today were to the opposite field. I thought our guys were locked in and had a great approach at the plate all day long."
In a game that was expected to be a battle to the end, Auburn took control early and never let up on the Jaguars as they pounded them into submission. Things started right away as center fielder Luke Greinke doubled to right field to get the hitting barrage underway. Following a strikeout for out number one, Josh Donaldson belted his first double of the day to left field. The hit scored Greinke for Donaldson's 19th RBI of the season to give Auburn the fast start. Things didn't slow down any as Bianucci followed with a sharp single to put runners on the corners with still just one out.
Playing first base with the lefty starter on the mound for USA, Ryan Stanley worked a walk to load the bases and bring Smith to the plate. Doing his job, Smith lifted a fly ball to center field that easily scored Donaldson for the second run of the inning for the Tigers. A walk to first baseman Joseph Sanders again loaded the bases for Jenkins. Getting his first start of the season, Jenkins hit a slow roller for an infield single that scored Bianucci to make it 3-0 Tigers and bring Skinner to the plate.
The smallest member of the Auburn baseball team, Skinner has shown power this season with two doubles that just missed going out of the park this season. Sunday he got that little extra that has been missing as he blasted his first career home run over the right field wall for a grand slam. The bomb gave the Tigers a commanding 7-0 advantage and pushed Skinner's RBI total to an impressive 15 on the season.
"Skins got a-hold of that ball," Slater says. "He drove it out of here and that was fun to watch. His teammates got real excited about that. People sometimes underestimate Skins but he's already had a big double this year against Greensboro and then the home run today. He's a good player and I was very proud of him."
Skinner has been very good for the Tigers at the bottom of the lineup.
Staked to an early lead it was up to Crawford just to keep anything big from happening for the Jaguars and he did just that. Despite a pair of walks in the first he didn't allow a run in the first two innings and the Tigers would add to their lead in the third. With one out Smith singled to left field and advanced to second on an error. That was big as Sanders singled to left field to easily score Smith and make it 8-0 Tigers. South Alabama would finally get on the board in the bottom half as three consecutive singles pushed across USA's first run to cut the lead to seven but things would get quickly out of hand in Auburn's half of the fourth.
Up seven runs and looking for more, the Tigers came out swinging in the top of the fourth and it all happened with two outs. Trying to get something going after back-to-back fly outs by Greinke and Robert Brooks, Donaldson worked a walk to bring Bianucci to the plate. Starting a very good trend for the Tigers in the inning, Bianucci drilled his fifth home run of the season to right field to make it 10-1 Auburn. The two RBI pushed Bianucci's total to 15 on the season but Auburn wasn't done yet by any stretch of the imagination.
Another two-out walk, this one to Stanley, again spelled trouble for South Alabama as Smith followed with a two-run shot to center field. It was Smith's first home run of the season and made the score 12-1 Tigers. Unfortunately for the Jaguars the damage wasn't quite done as Sanders reached on an error to bring Jenkins to the plate. Again a USA mistake was followed by an Auburn home run as Jenkins unloaded his first bomb of the season to make the score 14-1 Tigers after just three and a half innings.
From there it was all window dressing on both sides as South Alabama cut into Auburn's lead a small amount with a two-run home run from catcher Joel Collins. Leading 14-3, the Tigers would again answer back in the top of the fifth as Brooks reached on a single to get things going and scored one out later on a Bianucci triple to right-center. A Stanley single then scored Bianucci to make the score 16-3 Tigers. South Alabama added a single run in the bottom of the fifth off Crawford but that would be all as the Tigers led 16-4 when he left the game to start the sixth inning in good shape to get his second win of the season.
"Evan was not as sharp as we would probably like but he did enough," Slater says. "He gave us a solid five innings. Obviously it's easier to pitch when you've got a big lead like that. He had a couple of walks that were kind of irritating to Coach (Butch) Thompson because you don't want to walk people with a seven-run lead but the thing with Evan is that if you can get him through the first inning he usually settles in and rolls along pretty good after that."
Following a scoreless inning on both sides as Johnny Thompson came on to pitch in the sixth, Auburn would push the total over 20 with a four-spot in the top of the seventh. Leading off the inning, Donaldson drilled his second double of the game to get into scoring position for the red hot Bianucci. Continuing his tear at the plate, Bianucci singled to center field to score Donaldson and make it 17 on the board for Auburn. Before the Jaguars could get three outs in the inning they had walked three Tiger hitters to push across another run. The final two runs came on a Sanders ground ball that was thrown away at first. The error allowed two runs to score and made it 20-4 Tigers. South Alabama added a single run in the bottom of the eighth off reliever Josh Blake but it was way too little and very much too late as Auburn won going away to finish the Coca-Cola Classic with a perfect 3-0 record.
Auburn returns to action Tuesday at 3 p.m. when the Tigers face Samford at 3 p.m. at Plainsman Park.