Macon, Ga.--Sophomore Mike Bianucci had three hits and four RBI, including a two-run home run, to lead the Auburn Tigers (19-9) to a 5-1 victory over Mercer (18-11) Tuesday night. In its first trip to Macon in 30 years, Auburn got a fantastic pitching performance from starter Taylor Thompson and timely hitting up and down the lineup as the Tigers broke a six-game losing streak with the victory.
Looking for better starting pitching, Auburn got just that out of the freshman Thompson. Pitching a career high six innings, Thompson improved his record to 3-0 as he allowed just one earned run on four hits while walking four. Bryan Woodall and Luke Greinke came on to pitch the final three innings but Coach Tommy Slater says the story of the game was Thompson.
"I think the story was Taylor Thompson," Slater says. "He threw the ball extremely well. He went out there and really dominated their hitters for six innings and threw outstanding. I'm very, very proud of Taylor and the work he did for us. That's a great quality start in a midweek game. He really executed every pitch Butch (Thompson) asked him to."
It wasn't the greatest night offensively for the Tigers as they had just seven hits against the Bears but Bianucci's night is a good sign for the team. Struggling off and on for the last three weeks, Bianucci carried the Auburn offense Tuesday night. Slater says he was proud of the fight his team showed despite not swinging the bats particularly well.
"Offensively we did some poor things early in the game," Slater says. "We had a lot of base runners, a lot of opportunities. We left a lot of runs on the bases. We made some stupid mistakes early in the game but the kids kept plugging and persevering."
Taylor Thompson pitched a solid game for the Tigers Tuesday night.
Auburn took the early advantage Tuesday night as true freshman Robert Brooks singled with one out in the first inning and advanced to second on the first of three walks to Josh Donaldson on the night. That put Brooks into scoring position for Bianucci and he delivered, drilling a single to push across the first run of the game for Auburn to give Thompson a lead.
Bianucci didn't only do it on offense Tuesday night but he also added two stellar defensive plays to keep the lead for Thompson. In each of the first two innings, the left fielder cut down a Mercer Bear at the plate to keep the Tigers in the lead and set the tone for the game defensively for Auburn.
"I thought all night long we played fairly well defensively," Slater says. "Obviously Mike, throwing a couple of runners out at the plate early in the game, (was big). Those were good throws. He kept his body under control. He's got a cannon of an arm, we just ask him to keep it under control. He threw them right on line and did a nice job."
Mercer threatened again in the third inning but Thompson once again pitched his way out of trouble. Following a leadoff walk to Eric Renfroe, Thompson got the dangerous Josh Thompson to bring Tyler Brown to the plate. That was enough for Renfroe as he stole second to move into scoring position. Moments later Brown earned the second walk of the inning for Mercer but it wouldn't matter as Thompson got the final two hitters to keep the game 1-0 Auburn going to the fourth.
The Bears finally broke through against Thompson in the fourth as another leadoff walk finally cost the true freshman as a Casey Stewart double drove home the Mercer run to tie the game at one but Auburn would answer back in the top of the fifth to take commanding advantage of the game.
Leading off, Bruce Edwards worked a walk from Mercer pitcher Boone Webster. The Bears' number two starter, Webster got into trouble quickly as a Brooks fly ball moved Edwards to second for Donaldson. This time Mercer didn't try to fool anyone as they put the junior on base intentionally for Bianucci. The move proved to be a bad one for Mercer as Bianucci singled to score Edwards and put Auburn back in front. Following another walk to load the bases, true freshman Joseph Sanders just missed a grand slam to center field but his fly ball was deep enough to score Donaldson and make it 3-1 Auburn.
Thompson continued to cruise as he got through the fifth and sixth innings unscathed but just barely. In the sixth a leadoff single by Steven Karwatt put Mercer in business as a sacrifice bunt moved him to second with one out. A fly ball moved Karwatt to third base with Stewart coming to the plate. A looping liner to second base brought an end to the inning as Brooks' diving grab saved a run and gave the Tigers some momentum going to the plate in the seventh.
Up first, Brooks was hit by a pitch to reach base. It was the 12th time this season that Brooks has been hit by a pitch. Mercer got Donaldson on strikes but an error on the pitcher attempting to pick off Brooks allowed him to move all the way to third with Bianucci coming to the plate. Already with two hits and two RBI on the night, Bianucci finished up his big night with a two-run home run. A Dustin Spruill walk and Sanders double gave Auburn another very good scoring chance but Ross Smith and Andy Bennett couldn't push another run across.
Auburn Friday night starter Bryan Woodall came on to pitch the seventh just to get some work after a short outing last weekend. He pitched a scoreless inning in relief before turning things over to Greinke. The sophomore closed out the victory with two scoreless innings to give Auburn the victory.
The Tigers get back to action this weekend when they take on the Ole Miss Rebels at Plainsman Park. Game times for the series are 6 p.m. on Friday, 2 p.m. on Saturday and 1:30 p.m. on Sunday. Ole Miss is tied for second in the Western Division at 3-3 while Auburn is still looking for its first conference victory of the season.