Auburn, Ala.--It took nearly a full calendar year but Auburn's losing streak in the SEC is history after the Tigers defeated Ole Miss 3-2 on a wet Sunday afternoon at Plainsman Park. Starting the 2007 season 0-8 in league play after finishing last year with a 10-game streak, Auburn had not won against a conference foe since April 28 of 2006 when the Tigers won at Alabama.
The win improves Auburn to 20-11 overall, 1-8 in SEC play, while Ole Miss falls to 21-9, 5-4 in conference action. Coach Tommy Slater says he's proud of his team for working hard and not giving up when thing didn't go well the first eight games.
"I'm very happy for our team," Slater says. "These kids have not stopped believing in themselves and it showed today with the way they went about their business. I'm just so proud of how they went about it.
"I'm very proud of the ballclub," he adds. "I'm very proud of the fact that our kids came out with great energy and passion. They just enjoyed playing the game today, they really did. That was really satisfying for me to see, just the way our kids came out with the energy and compassion they displayed."
Auburn celebrates the victory with Butts after the game.
The story of the day for the Tigers was Brett Butts. Expected to be in his normal set up role with Luke Greinke scheduled to be the closer, Butts instead was forced into the closer's role with an early injury to Greinke. All he did was pitch two and two/thirds perfect innings to shut the door on Ole Miss with Auburn holding the 3-2 advantage. It was his third save of the season and none have been bigger than Sunday's.
"I just got ahead of them and got outs," Butts says of his performance. "I threw the curve ball early and put them away with the change up. I love that feeling (of getting the save). I have never done it before until this year. Now I've had three chances to end the game. Every time is just great."
Butts' save put the finishing touches on a very good pitching day for the Tigers as starter Taylor Thompson gave up just one earned run and five hits in four and two/thirds innings. In his first SEC start, Thompson pitched well until running into trouble in the fifth. Although he didn't pick up the victory, Thompson says he was pleased with his performance on such a big stage.
"It's real nerve-wracking to go out there against a quality team like that but I went out there and settled down and starting making good pitches," Thompson says. "It was real fun. That's what I have been dreaming off since I have been a little kid, to play in the SEC. It came true today."
Auburn got on the board first on a Sunday when the skies threatened from the first pitch. Leading the game off, center fielder Bruce Edwards was hit by a Craig Rodriguez pitch to bring Greinke to the plate. A bouncer just out of the reach of first baseman Andrew Clark was just enough for Greinke to reach first base and move Edwards to third but a strained hip flexor meant an early end to Greinke's day as Andy Bennett came on to replace him with Josh Donaldson coming to the plate. A ground ball back to Rodriguez failed to score the run but Mike Bianucci's ground ball to short pushed Edwards across and moved Bennett to third with two outs. Joseph Sanders then singled him home to put Auburn up 2-0 early.
The Rebels put a scare into Thompson in the second inning as a leadoff walk to Clark put them in business but the first of several big defensive plays by the Tigers saved the day. Following a Logan Power pop to short, C.J. Ketchum hit a ground ball deep in the hole at shortstop. Making a diving grab, Phillip Stringer threw to Robert Brooks from his knees to cut down Clark at second for out number two. That would be big as Fuller Smith followed with a bloop single to left that would have scored a run. Thompson came back to strike out number nine hitter Brett Basham to end the Rebel threat and keep them scoreless through two.
All season Ross Smith has been solid for the Tigers in right field and he delivered once again as he led off the bottom of the second with a single to left field and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. An Edwards groundout then moved Smith to third for Bennett. Struggling for much of the season, Bennett lined a single over the head of Justin Henry at second base to score Smith and put the Tigers up 3-0 with Thompson pitching well.
The lead remained the same until the top of the fifth when Ole Miss finally got to the hard-throwing freshman. With one out, Jordan Henry singled to center field and moved to second on a ground ball to Bennett at first base. Looking as if he would escape the inning, Thompson instead ran into trouble as Zack Cozart singled just out of the reach of the pitcher to score the first Rebel run. Another single, this time by Cody Overbeck, would be the end of the line for Thompson as Johnny Thompson came on to clean up the mess by getting Clark to pop out to end the threat with the lead still at two.
Ole Miss would continue to chip into the lead in the sixth inning and if not for a great play by Bianucci in left field, they would have at least tied the game in the inning. Leading things off, Power ripped a Thompson pitch off the very top of the monster in left field. Catching the ball off the wall, Bianucci threw a strike to Brooks at second to easily cut down Power for the out.
It proved to be a big play as with two outs, Fuller Smith doubled to right field and Brett Basham followed with a single to score him from second. Josh Blake came on to retire Jordan Henry to end the inning with Auburn still ahead 3-2 but fortunate to be in front thanks to Bianucci's play in the field.
From there it was all about Butts' performance. Facing eight batters, Butts retired all eight on a day when pitching wasn't easy because of a steady rain the final six innings. Now with the losing streak in the books, Butts says he feels like the team is ready to do some good things in the coming weeks.
"We've been right there the whole time," Butts says. "Just getting this is going to help us keep going. I think we'll roll from here on."
At the plate, the Tigers were led by Sanders with two hits. He was the only player with multiple hits for Auburn as the Tigers finished with seven hits. Both Jordan Henry and Smith had two hits for the Rebels.
The Tigers get back to action Tuesday night at 6 p.m. when they take on South Alabama at Plainsman Park. Sophomore Justin Bristow and freshman Austin Hubbard are both expected to see action on the mound with no starter determined at this time. Next week the Tigers travel to LSU to face the Bengal Tigers in a huge series for both teams.