Auburn, Ala.--Auburn sophomore Paul Burnside delivered arguably the best starting pitching performance of the season for the Tigers on Friday night as he allowed just three hits in seven innings, the only problem was Ole Miss starter Will Kline was just a little better as he pitched a complete game in a 4-2 Rebel victory at Plainsman Park. The loss drops Auburn to 19-10 overall and 0-7 in SEC play while Ole Miss improves to 20-8, 4-3 in conference action.
On a night when Auburn played solid baseball, Coach Tommy Slater says that they were unfortunate to run up against a pitcher on a roll like Kline. Throwing 131 pitches in the complete game, Kline allowed just six Auburn hits and two earned runs while striking out a career-high 11 batters. Slater says that Kline was the story of the game and the difference for Ole Miss on Friday night.
"Paul was outstanding in the Friday night start," Slater says. "Brett (Butts) was good behind him. I'm very pleased with the way we pitched. Kline was really good for them was well. It was a pitcher's duel and they came out on top.
"I thought he (Kline) was doing a good job of throwing his breaking ball for a strike," Slater adds. "When he needed to he reached back and got a little extra. He struck us out 11 times tonight, which might be the most we've struck out all year. He was exactly what we thought he would be, pretty efficient with the fastball and pitched away from his arm side. I thought he threw some good breaking balls as well. We gave ourselves some chances with him. We got some base runners on against him, not a lot, but we gave ourselves some chances."
Looking for more out of his pitching staff coming into the weekend, Slater moved Friday night starter Bryan Woodall to the bullpen and bumped up Burnside to the opening night slot. While it didn't lead to a victory, Burnside delivered as he became the first Auburn starter since Feb. 23 to pitch seven innings. On the night the Montgomery native allowed two earned runs and struck out nine while throwing 106 pitches. Slater says he couldn't ask for anything more out of his starter.
"We got everything we could get out of him," Slater says. "He was outstanding. Even finishing that last inning he pitched, he was out of gas. They actually squared a couple of balls up on him. It was just a great effort by Paul. He looked like a legit Friday night starter."
Luke Greinke stretches his first inning hit into a double as he slides around the tag.
It would be the fourth inning before either team got on the board and it was fitting in this game close game that both scored in the exact same fashion. Leading off the top of the inning against Burnside, Justin Henry reached first on a very controversial catcher's interference call. On a high strike, Henry appeared to foul the ball before catcher Josh Donaldson caught the ball. The umpire ruled otherwise, proving to be a big play in this game. Following a fly ball for the first out, third baseman Cody Overbeck got a good piece of a high fastball and just got it over the head of right fielder Ross Smith and into the Auburn bullpen for a two-run homer. It was Overbeck's seventh home run of the season and it gave the Rebels first blood.
Auburn answered back in the bottom of the inning against the powerful Kline. Leading things off, Donaldson worked a walk to bring sophomore Mike Bianucci to the plate. Coming out of his funk on Tuesday night against Mercer with three hits, including a home run, Bianucci continued his streak as he blasted a hanging breaking ball over the center field wall for his seventh home run. The bomb tied the game at two heading to the fifth.
From there both pitchers settled back in as both the fifth and sixth innings were scoreless for both teams. Heading to the seventh, Ole Miss had just one hit off Burnside but that would change with one out in the inning as C.J. Ketchum drilled a single to center field. Pinch runner JoJo Tann came on to replace Ketchum and moved to third on a single by Evan Button. Burnside then got number nine hitter Brett Basham to hit a ground ball to Joseph Sanders at third base but a bobble forced the freshman to throw to first instead of to Donaldson at the plate. That allowed the go-ahead run to score. Burnside finished out the inning but that would be all for him as Brett Butts came on in the top of the eighth to try to keep the Rebels at two.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, Ole Miss wasn't done scoring as they made just their fourth hit of the game pay off in a big way. With one out in the top of the ninth, Logan Power jumped on a Butts' pitch and lifted it just over the wall in left field for a home run. It was Power's sixth home run of the season and gave the Rebels a commanding two-run lead with Kline still on the mound for the ninth. A two-out walk to Smith gave Auburn a brief cause for hope in the ninth but Eric Skinner struck out to end the game.
At the plate Auburn was led by Greinke with two hits. The rest of the team combined for just four hits with Bianucci's blast the biggest of the bunch. For Ole Miss it was all about the homers from Overbeck and Power. They had just two more hits on the night.
Saturday the Tigers will look to break into the win column in SEC play as sophomore Evan Crawford takes the mound against Lance Lynn for the Rebels. The game time is scheduled for 2 p.m. with no television. Slater says his team will continue to work hard as they look to get something positive going with a victory on Saturday.
"I'm frustrated and the team is frustrated," Slater says. "That's just human nature. Are we giving up, hell no. We're persevering. Our kids came out tonight and they played hard and they'll continue to do that. I have been a part of lots of good teams and I have been a part of some bad teams. We're 0-7 in the league and I'm sitting here and I love my team. I don't think we're bad. I'm going to keep saying that. I look out there and I like what's on the field and I like what's pitching. I'm not going to give in and say we're bad. Does the record say we're bad, yea we're 0-7 and it stinks. I don't' think we're a bad team. I really don't."