Trailing 8-0 after four innings and looking like they were left for dead, Auburn rallied for a 11-8 victory that evened the series with the Sun Devils and improved the Tigers' record to 12-2 overall. Arizona State falls to 12-4 on the season.
In front of 3,652 loud and rowdy fans at Plainsman Park, Auburn finally answered the bell against a team that had dominated them for all three meetings last season and again on Friday night. Coach Tommy Slater says that he was proud to see his team step up when they were challenged by one of the country's top teams.
"Our kids believe in themselves, they have a lot of belief in themselves," Slater says. "They didn't hang their heads at all. We were down 8-0 and I told them in the dugout ‘guys, we haven't faced adversity all year and let's see at the end of this game if we can make that scoreboard look a lot of different'. A couple of players said to stay positive and play hard. I thought the kids did a tremendous job.
"I think it was just two very good college baseball teams getting after each other," Slater adds. "It is college athletics and there is emotion and intensity and all that but it's two good teams playing hard. I have all the respect in the world for Arizona State, the way they coach and the way they play. That's why I scheduled them. I want to play a team like that. I don't think we'll see a team this good all year and I don't we'll see a team this well-coached all year."
Trailing 8-0 after a three-run top of the fourth by Arizona State against Auburn starter Paul Burnside, things looked bleak for the Tigers as they came to bat in the bottom of the inning. Things would get better quickly though as Auburn's bats came to life to get this one interesting once again. With one out Andy Bennett got his second hit of the game to get things going and Joseph Sanders followed with a double to right-center that scored Bennett and put Auburn on the board. Up next, Eric Skinner lifted a shallow fly ball to right field that caused a collision and fell to the turf. The error scored Bennett and left runners on second and third for the top of the Auburn order.
Struggling for much of the last two weeks, center fielder Bruce Edwards rolled a single into center field that scored both Sanders and Skinner to make it 8-3 Arizona State. That was just the beginning of Auburn's offensive explosion in the inning as, with two outs, Donaldson lined a single into right field to bring Mike Bianucci to the plate. A walk to Auburn's left fielder loaded the bases for designated hitter Ryan Stanley and he came through with a single into center field that scored two runs.
On the play Bianucci raced for third and arrived with a collision, knocking the ball away from the ASU third baseman. Stanley moved up to second on the play as Arizona State players and coaches caused a lengthy delay arguing the call. It only served to fire up the Tigers as Luke Greinke singled home both Bianucci and Stanley to cut the eight-run lead back to just one heading to the sixth inning.
Following reliever Brett Butts scoreless top of the inning, Auburn came back for more in the bottom as they did damage with two outs to take the lead. Looking to get something going, Edwards singled up the middle for his second hit of the game as Robert Brooks was hit by a pitch to bring Donaldson to the plate. Arizona State had done a great job pitching around both Donaldson and Bianucci for the first game and a half of the series but not this time as Donaldson got a hanging breaking ball and drove it over the left fieldl wall for a three-run shot. It was his fifth home run of the season and it gave Auburn a 10-8 advantage heading to the seventh. Donaldson says the home run and the victory made for a huge victory for the Tigers against one of the country's best teams.
"It was a very emotional game for us," Donaldson says. "I was talking to Coach Slater and wondering when the last time was Auburn came back from a score like 8-0, especially against a team like Arizona State. I'm just proud of the way we handled ourselves and the way we battled throughout the game. I think it says a lot about our team and what is to come the next 50 games we're going to play."
Josh Donaldson celebrates his three-run home run.
Butts would continue his solid work as he pitched a scoreless seventh with Auburn also failing to score in the bottom of the inning. Bristow came on in the eighth and it looked as if Arizona State would tie the game or even take the lead as the Sun Devils loaded the bases with just one out with pinch-hitter Rocky Laguna coming to the plate. The team captain, Laguna hit a hot shot right at Brooks at second. He flipped to Skinner at short who threw to first for the double play to end the inning.
"That was huge," Donaldson says. "It was just what we wanted and exactly what we needed. With the guys they have in their lineup, all nine of them have a chance to hit a double or a home run. The double play was huge. I think that allowed us to say we were almost there."
The Tigers added an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth as Sanders collected his second hit of the game with a long home run that easily cleared the valley between the left field wall and the scoreboard at Plainsman Park. It was Sanders' first home run of the season and it gave Auburn a commanding 11-8 advantage. Freshman Scott Shuman came on to pitch the ninth inning as he earned his third save of the season. Slater says that while Burnside struggled some, as a whole the pitching staff was outstanding as Arizona State got just five hits in the final five innings.
"Our bullpen was really good and credit Paul for giving us five innings," Slater says. "It wasn't his best day and they touched him up a little bit but getting us through five allowed the bullpen to do what it could. Brett gave us a solid two innings and Bristow works out of a big-time jam with some pretty good stuff to get the double-play ball. Shuman, that's pretty good stuff for a young man to go out there as a freshman and have a one-two-three ninth."
Brett Butts earned his first win of the season after pitching two scoreless innings of relief.
Early on, Saturday's game was very familiar looking as Arizona State jumped out to a quick start against Burnside. In the second, a one-out solo home run by Tim Smith put the Sun Devils on the board but that was just the beginning. In the third they exploded for four runs with an Eric Sogard triple to center field the big blow of the inning. Two runs scored on the blast as Arizona State led 5-0 after three. They would extend the lead in the fourth thanks in large part to an Andrew Romine double but that would be all on this day for ASU as an eight-run lead would evaporate over the course of the next three innings as the Tigers held on for the win.
The two teams will play the rubber match of the series on Sunday with the first pitch scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Auburn sophomore Evan Crawford will get the start for the Tigers while the Sun Devils are listed as TBA.