Columbia, S.C.--South Carolina starting pitcher Harris Honeycutt was a perfect 7-0 on the season and had given up just eight earned runs in 50 1/3 innings this season but on Friday night Auburn touched up the junior for eight earned runs in just three innings on the way to a dominating 16-1 victory in game one of a three-game series at Sarge Frye Field. The win improves Auburn to 25-12 overall and 4-9 in SEC play while the third-ranked Gamecocks fall to 26-8, 7-6 in conference action.
Looking for more production out of the top of the Auburn order, the Tigers got that and more on Friday night as Bruce Edwards, Luke Greinke, Josh Donaldson and Mike Bianucci combined for 11 hits and 15 RBI. In a game when the offense got started early and never let up, Coach Tommy Slater says his team did exactly what they needed to do against a pitcher the caliber of Honeycutt.
"He's been really good all year," Slater says. "He's got an outstanding change up and when you face a change up guy you've just got to see it up because if it starts out down it sure as heck isn't going to stay there, it's going to keep going down. We just did our best to see his change up and I thought our kids took a pretty mature approach at the plate on him. He still struck out eight of us in four innings. It wasn't like he wasn't effective but we were able to do a little damage to him. He's really good. I'm just proud of our kids' approach and how hard we played this evening.
"I have a lot of praise for Luke Greinke," he adds. "Luke didn't get here until today because he was at his grandparents' funeral yesterday. Both of his grandparents passed away last weekend and Luke was in Orlando, Fla. with his family. Luke flew in this morning to join us. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Greinke family. For Luke to come out and have a couple of big doubles says a lot about him and how competitive he is."
Not to be outdone, Auburn's Paul Burnside had another strong Friday night outing to pick up his sixth win of the season. Allowing just one run on five hits in seven innings, the Montgomery native kept the powerful South Carolina offense off-balance and gave his offense a chance to relax and keep scoring runs. Reliever Chris Dennis came on to pitch a strong final two innings to close out the victory.
"I thought pitching was the story," Slater says. "On a night when he probably didn't have his best stuff, Paul Burnside showed how mature he's becoming as a pitcher. To pitch as well as he did tonight, he's really growing up because he didn't take a lot to the mound tonight but he was pretty good."
Paul Burnside outdueled one of the country's top pitchers Friday night.
Facing one of the country's top pitchers in Honeycutt, Auburn got to work early as Edwards singled to center field and moved to third on a Greinke double. With two runners in scoring position and the middle of the Auburn order coming to the plate things looked good but Donaldson struck out for the first out of the inning to bring Bianucci to the plate. Back after missing over a week because of an injury, Bianucci lifted a fly ball deep enough to score Edwards for the game's first run. Slater says the RBI was big just to get Greinke some positive thoughts in his first at-bat.
South Carolina would threaten in the bottom of the first but wouldn't score, giving the Tigers a chance to fire the first big blow of the game in the top of the second. Leading things off, Auburn's top hitter Joseph Sanders worked a walk from Honeycutt and quickly stole second. Fellow freshman Robert Brooks followed with a walk of his own and Auburn was in business. Attempting to bunt the runners over, Ross Smith put down a perfect bunt to reach first with a single to load the bases for Eric Skinner.
Deadly this season with runners in scoring position, Skinner struck out to bring Edwards to the plate. Looking like they had reverted back to early SEC form, the Tigers got to two outs as Edwards also struck out. That left things up to Greinke and the sophomore delivered. Getting a pitch to hit, Greinke drove it into the gap for a double that cleared the bases. A Donaldson ground ball brought the inning to an end but not before Auburn pushed the lead to four.
The Tigers were just getting started against Honeycutt as they put up four more on the standout pitcher in the top of the third. Leading off the inning, Bianucci took the first pitch he saw deep into the night at Sarge Frye Field for a solo home run. It was the first home run given up this season by Honeycutt and it put Auburn up 5-0. Back-to-back singles by Dustin Spruill and Sanders followed to put the Tigers back in business. Following a Brooks strikeout, Smith was hit by a Honeycutt pitch to once again load the bases for Skinner. Just like the first time up, Skinner struck out to force Auburn to come up with some two out magic. It was just Auburn's night as Edwards lined a double over the lead of the South Carolina left fielder that cleared the bases. Just like that Auburn was up 8-0 with Burnside cruising on the mound.
Auburn's outstanding sophomore would face his first real trouble in the bottom of the third as the Tigers looked to keep the lead at eight. With one out, leadoff man Harley Lail was hit by a pitch to give South Carolina some life. One out later, Trent Kline doubled down the left field line to give the Gamecocks runners on second and third with two outs. Facing home run threat Justin Smoak, Burnside pitched very carefully and walked the big first baseman to load the bases for Phil Disher. Getting a more favorable matchup, Burnside got Disher to ground out to Skinner at short to end the inning and the South Carolina threat.
Honeycutt finally got the Tigers out in the fourth but that would be his last inning as reliever Forrest Beverly came on to begin the fifth and was promptly roughed up by Auburn's offense. Leading off, Smith walked to get things going. Deciding to be aggressive, Auburn started Smith at first with Skinner at the plate. Hitting a ground ball to the right side, Skinner did his job but Smith never slowed down and advanced all the way to third with just one out. That started a trend of aggressive base running for the Tigers as Edwards singled home Smith and quickly stole second. On the play the throw went into the outfield allowing the senior to move to third with Greinke at the plate. A Greinke strikeout would leave Edwards at third but an infield single by Donaldson pushed him across for run number two in the inning. Wanting to run himself, Donaldson stole second for his 14th of the season with Bianucci at the plate and it proved to be big as Bianucci doubled sharply to left to score Donaldson and make it 11-0 Tigers.
South Carolina finally got on the board against Burnside in the bottom of the sixth inning. With his team down eleven runs, Smoak drilled a solo homer to right field for his 11th of the season. That would be all the damage in the inning though as Burnside came back to retire the Gamecocks. The Tigers wouldn't rest on their laurels though as they came back to score two in the top of the seventh to keep the pressure on the home team. Leading off, Skinner reached on an infield single and promptly stole second. His aggressiveness forced an errant throw by the South Carolina catcher that moved him to third. A walk to Edwards put runners on the corners with nobody out for Greinke when a wild pitch advanced the runners and scored Skinner. Moving to third on a ground ball, Edwards scored moments later on a fly ball from Donaldson. Heading to the bottom of the seventh, Auburn held a commanding 13-1 advantage.
The finishing touches on this night came with the Tigers batting in the top of the ninth and still leading by 12 runs. With two outs and nobody on, Auburn got back-to-back singles by Edwards and Greinke to bring Donaldson to the plate looking to get back even with Bianucci in the home run race. Getting a pitch to drive, Donaldson drove it deep to center field and off the top of the wall for his ninth home run of the season. The blast put Auburn up 16-1 and Dennis finished things off in the bottom of the ninth.
The Tigers will go for the series win on Saturday in a game that will start at 11 a.m. central time instead of the original start time of 4 p.m. because of expected rough weather in South Carolina. Freshman Taylor Thompson (4-0, 2.95 ERA) gets the call for the Tigers against Arik Hempby (2-0, 2.84) for the Gamecocks.