Auburn, Ala.--It took nearly the entire game, but Auburn's bats came to life just in time as a double by Bruce Edwards and a two-run home run by Luke Greinke in the eighth inning broke open a tie game with Samford and the Tigers held on for a 4-1 victory over the Bulldogs Tuesday at Plainsman Park.
The win improves the 24th-ranked Tigers to 11-1 while Samford falls to 4-5.
The offense was able to pull out the victory thanks to terrific pitching and solid defense by the Tigers. Freshman Taylor Thompson got the start and allowed just one earned run on a solo home run by Parker Gargis in five innings of work. Reliever Justin Bristow pitched three perfect innings of relief to earn his first career victory while freshman Scott Shuman earned his second save by pitching a scoreless ninth inning despite walking two Bulldogs. Coach Tommy Slater says the victory is due in large part to two areas of Auburn's team.
"Pitching and defense was the story today," Slater says. "We really pitched well. Taylor was very good in his start and we made some key defensive plays behind him, (Mike) Bianucci throwing the kid out at the plate and Josh Donaldson picking two different base runners off the bases. I thought we really played defense today.
"I was also really happy with our pitching," he adds. "Taylor obviously as the starter but Bristow was lights out. That was dominant, dominant stuff there for three innings. Then we get the lead and turn it over to Shuman. We're not real happy with the two walks but he did a good job and nailed down the save for us."
Reliever Justin Bristow was dominating in his performance Tuesday.
Struggling to find some offense against Samford starter Chandler Tidwell with just two hits through six innings and trailing the visiting Bulldogs 1-0, Auburn finally got something going in the bottom of the seventh. Leading off the inning, Donaldson was hit by a pitch to put the Tigers in business. That would bring up the reigning SEC Player of the Week, Mike Bianucci. Continuing his hot streak, Bianucci laced a double down the right field line that pushed Donaldson to third and gave Auburn two runners in scoring position with nobody out.
Wanting a favorable match up, Slater called on pinch hitter Ben Jones to drive in the run and he delivered with a fly ball to center field that scored Donaldson to tie the game and send Bianucci to third. That would be all for the Tigers though as Tidwell settled down to get Robert Brooks on a strikeout before Andy Bennett's fly ball ended the threat with the game tied at one.
"When you pitch as well as we are right now and you defend well, I really believe that keeps you in games," Slater says. "Today was a day where their kid was rolling. He was throwing those breaking balls over and throwing his fastball to both sides of the plate. He had our hitters off balance the whole game long. Because we pitched and defended so well we knew eventually we were going to get to him."
Edwards slides into third base after his double and an error by the Samford center fielder pushed across the tying run.
With Bristow cruising on the mound the Tigers came back to finish off the Bulldogs in the bottom of the eighth. True freshman Joseph Sanders started things for Auburn with a sharp single to center field. With pinch runner Travis Coleman on first, number nine hitter Eric Skinner couldn't get a bunt down before striking out. That brought Edwards to the plate. Getting a pitch to drive, Edwards lined a double into left-center that Samford Joseph Ballew misplayed. The error on the double allowed Coleman to score all the way from first and put Auburn ahead 2-1. Greinke then put the game away with a fly ball to right field that just cleared the wall for his first home run of the season. The blast gave the Tigers a commanding 4-1 advantage that Shuman held up in the ninth for his second save of the season.
"I was just looking to put the ball in play up the middle and get that run in," Greinke says. "Luckily I hit it good and it went over the fence. Our pitching staff just kept us close and as long as they kept us close we knew we had a chance to win. That was pretty much what won the game."
Early on it looked as if Samford would put up some early numbers off Thompson. In the third inning Bill Whitehead doubled to left field to lead off the inning for Samford. Following a pop up on the infield, John Morgan lined a single into left field that Bianucci came up with cleanly. With one of the strongest arms in the country, Bianucci easily threw out Whitehead at the plate to halt the Samford scoring threat. The Bulldogs got on the board in the fourth on Parker Gargis' (son of former AU football star Phil Gargis) home run, his third of the season, but that would be it for Samford on this day as the Tigers came from behind for the victory.
Auburn returns to action Friday at 6 p.m. when they take on the Arizona State Sun Devils in the first of a three-game series at Plainsman Park. Times for the weekend are 2 p.m. on Saturday and 1:30 p.m. on Sunday. Arizona State is currently ranked 10th in the country and are 10-3 on the season.