Columbia, S.C.--As dominant as the Auburn Tigers were in Friday night's series opener against South Carolina, the Gamecocks were just as much in Saturday's game two as left hander Arik Hempby gave up just two hits and no runs in six and two-thirds innings and South Carolina hit two three-run homers in the first inning on the way to a 10-1 victory at Sarge Frye Field. With the win South Carolina improves to 27-8, 8-6 in SEC play, while Auburn falls to 25-13, 4-10 in conference action.
While the South Carolina offense was impressive on Saturday, the story of the day as Hempby and the Gamecock pitching staff. Back after having Tommy John surgery a year ago, the junior was dominating against an offense that had its way with Harris Honeycutt on Friday night. Auburn Coach Tommy Slater says they just ran into a better pitcher on Saturday and giving him the early lead made him even tougher to get to in the loss.
"Hempby really settled in with that up-zone fastball and they were calling it for strikes," Slater says. "We saw two different pitchers. Honeycutt is a kid that lives down in the zone and I thought we did a really nice job of getting on top and driving some balls. We did a good job. Hempby kind of lives up in the zone, both with his off-speed and his fastball. We were not able to really drive the ball like you would like to see. We had a hard time getting on top. Credit Hempby for doing a good job to us."
It was a rough day for Auburn freshman starter Taylor Thompson. The reigning SEC Freshman of the Week after his performance last Saturday at LSU, the Montgomery native failed to get out of the first inning against the Gamecocks as he gave up two three-run home runs to all but end the game early. Slater says it was a tough start for Thompson, who just didn't have it against a team that feasts on mistakes like the ones it was given in the first.
"Taylor walks the two leadoff guys and (James) Darnell is really swinging the bat well for them," Slater says. "We put him in an advantage count and he gets a fastball. Darnell had the best swings on their team last night. We felt like he was their hottest hitter even though (Travis) Jones is last week's player of the week."
Leading off the bottom of the first, Harvey Lail worked a walk from Thompson and Trent Kline followed with a walk as well to put the Gamecocks in business. Facing a team the caliber of South Carolina, you can't afford to give them any free base runners and third baseman James Darnell made Thompson pay immediately. Getting a pitch to drive, Darnell hit a three-run homer to left field to put the Gamecocks out in front. That was just the first of two big blows off Thompson in the first though as infield singles by Phil Disher and Andrew Crisp brought SEC and National Player of the Week Travis Jones to the plate looking for more.
The second single proved to be particularly costly as earlier in the at-bat he appeared to hit into an inning-ending double play but a balk by Thompson gave Crisp a second chance which he took advantage of with a single to bring Jones to the plate. He did just what he's done a lot lately as he jumped all over a 1-2 slider from Thompson and put it over the wall in left field for another three-run shot. Reliever Bryan Woodall eventually came on to get the final out of the first inning but it would be too late on this day as Hempby already had plenty of run support in his first SEC start of the season.
"The home run by Jones, we really felt like we had gotten to a point in the count where we could blow him away with the fastball," Slater says. "Taylor wanted to go with something else. We shook there and he hit a slider out of here. I'm sure if Taylor could have that pitch back he'd take it back. We were a pitch away from being out of the inning with the balk…Taylor just lost a little focus there. We had a double play ball with Crisp at the plate but he ran through it there then Jones hits a three-run homer."
Woodall would get through the next two innings unscathed before South Carolina finally got to him in the bottom of the fourth. A single by Cheyne Hurst got the Gamecocks moving once again as he stole second to get into scoring position for Lail. Doing his job, Lail singled home Hurst to make it 7-0 South Carolina. With Hempby cruising, the Gamecocks added another run in the fifth as a two-out single by Jones and a stolen base set the table for shortstop Reese Havens. The number eight hitter in the order, Havens ripped a double to easily score Jones and put South Carolina ahead by eight.
After scoring 16 runs on Friday night, Auburn's offense was completely shut down by Hempby. A Bruce Edwards leadoff single in the first inning was the only Tiger hit until a two-out single by Luke Greinke in the top of the sixth to extend his hitting streak to 13 games. A walk to Josh Donaldson followed to bring Mike Bianucci to the plate with a chance to get Auburn back in the game but it wasn't to be on this day as Bianucci popped out to end the inning.
Auburn's third pitcher Josh Blake came on to pitch the sixth and got the Gamecocks in order but he wouldn't be as fortunate in the seventh. With Auburn still struggling to get anything going offensively, the Gamecocks added two more runs to put the game away in the bottom of the seventh on a Jones' RBI single and a ground ball to second that scored Andrew Crisp from third.
The Tigers were able to avoid the shutout in the top of the ninth as a leadoff walk to Donaldson was followed by a single off the bat of Bianucci. On the hit Donaldson moved to third where he scored moments later on a Joseph Sanders sacrifice fly. That would be all on this day as, fittingly, Robert Brooks hit a line drive right at the South Carolina second baseman who threw to first for the double play to end the game.
Auburn will send sophomore Justin Bristow (1-3, 5.84 ERA) to the mound for Sunday's 12:30 central time start against TBA for the Gamecocks. South Carolina is expected to go with Will Atwood (1-1, 2.48) but that had not been determined yet.