Auburn, Ala.--The Auburn Tigers have been looking for better pitching for much of the last three weeks and Tuesday night they got just that as starter Austin Hubbard and reliever Justin Bristow were both outstanding as the Tigers defeated South Alabama 5-2 at Plainsman Park. Combining to allow just six hits and one earned run in eight innings, the duo completely shut down the Jaguars as the Tigers improved to 21-11 overall heading into a weekend series at LSU. Hubbard earned his first victory as an Auburn pitcher and says it felt good just to get back on the mound once again.
"It's pretty sweet," Hubbard says. "Everybody dreams of pitching D1 or just even in college. To come out here and pitch for Slater (Auburn Coach Tommy Slater) and get my first win is pretty sweet."
Using Tuesday night's game as somewhat of an experiment to see if either Hubbard or Bristow may be ready to jump into SEC action, Slater says both guys performed extremely well and earned the right to be in the running for the Sunday starter position this weekend in Baton Rouge along with Evan Crawford. He says that will be determined later in the week with Paul Burnside going on Friday and Taylor Thompson on Saturday. Slater says both pitched well enough to garner consideration for the weekend.
"The pitching was outstanding," Slater says. "After the leadoff walk and the bunt he gets a double play ball. He should have really gotten out of that first inning without giving up a run but we threw the ball away. I was really pleased with how he pitched. Justin was electric tonight. That was great stuff.
"If you perform you get to get back out there more often," he adds. "He'd had a rough couple of weekends. This past weekend he didn't get out there. We don't give up on our guys. We keep working with them and trying to get them better. He did some work with Coach (Butch) Thompson and we pointed to tonight as a night for him to get back out there. He did a good job. It was good to see Austin back out there. They are both quality pitchers and did a nice job."
Particularly impressive on this night was Bristow. In easily his best performance of the season, the sophomore gave up just one hit and struck out six in four innings of work. Dominating using three different pitches, Bristow says it made it easier knowing that both he and Hubbard would be splitting the duties against South Alabama.
"I felt good," Bristow says. "Me and Hubbard were talking before the game. We didn't get a chance to get out there last weekend so we were hungry for the ball. We both got out there and competed and were well rested. We both felt fresh and had good stuff. We got some runs on the board, pitched well and played defense, and that's what it's about."
At the plate the Tigers had just an average night despite three hits and two runs scored from junior Josh Donaldson. Leaving 12 runners on base and struggling to get timely hits, Auburn didn't put away South Alabama after having several chances. Although it wasn't perfect, Donaldson says it feels good just to keep on the winning track as the Tigers get back into SEC play.
"It was nice to get a few hits today," Donaldson says. "I have been struggling a little bit lately. It was nice to get a hit early and for us to get the ‘W' again. It makes it a little more fun. It's tough to come to the ballpark when you continue to struggle a little bit but the guys continued to work hard and battle and we got a win out of it."
With Hubbard a little shaky to start things, South Alabama got right to business in the first as leadoff man Clint Toomey walked on four pitches and quickly advanced to second on a bunt single by Ray Kruml. Jeff Cunningham then hit what appeared to be a double play ball to Robert Brooks at second but Phillip Stringer's throw to first bounced into the stands for an error. Toomey scored on the play to give the Jaguars the early advantage. Hubbard settled down to get the next two USA batters to avoid further damage.
Auburn answered back in the bottom of the inning with Bruce Edwards starting it off with an infield single. Advancing to second on a passed ball, Edwards would watch as Robert Brooks hit a ground ball to third base for the first out of the inning. Donaldson then came through with his first hit of the night, a single to left that scored Edwards to tie the game.
Josh Donaldson scores on a Dustin Spruill single in the first inning.
Following a Mike Bianucci walk, Dustin Spruill sent the first pitch he saw into left field for a single. Donaldson scored on the play and just like that Auburn was ahead 2-1 after one inning of play.
Hubbard settled down tremendously and kept the Jaguars scoreless the next two innings before South Alabama used small ball to tie the game in the fourth. Leading off, David Doss singled to left field and designated hitter Ryan McCrory followed suit with a single of his own to bring catcher Joel Collins to the plate. Executing a perfect sacrifice bunt, Collins moved both runners up for Sean Laird. Hubbard got Laird to hit a ground ball down the third base line but the only play Donaldson had was to come to the plate. His throw wasn't in time as Doss scored to knot the game at two. Once again Hubbard would escape trouble as he got the final two outs of the inning.
Just like they had done in the first, the Tigers got the run back in the bottom of the inning as Ross Smith got things started with a one out single to center field and a stolen base that put him into scoring position for Ryan Jenkins. Catching on this night, the sophomore singled to short to put runners on the corners for Stringer. Striking out, Stringer didn't get the job done but Edward would as he singled to right field to make it 3-2 Tigers.
Another Donaldson hit, this time an infield single, got Auburn started in the fifth. Following a Bianucci strikeout, Spruill walked to put Donaldson into scoring position with Sanders coming to the plate. Deciding to put the runners in motion proved to be big for the Tigers as a Sanders ground ball was misplayed by the shortstop allowing Donaldson to score from second. The Tigers added an insurance run in the seventh on a bases-loaded walk to Edwards to put them up 5-2. Bristow cruised through the eighth inning before Chris Dennis closed things out with a dominating ninth to earn his second save of the season.
Auburn returns to action this weekend when the Tigers travel to Baton Rouge to face the resurgent LSU Tigers at Alex Box Stadium. Game times for the weekend 7 p.m. on Friday, 3 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday.