Trailing 3-2 Auburn scored four runs in the bottom of the seventh inning, with two coming on a RBI single by Tuscaloosa freshman Dustin Spruill, on the way to the win.
The win improves the Tigers to 27-15, 6-11 in SEC play while Alabama falls to 22-18, 7-10 in league action. Following a 0-8 start, Auburn has won six of nine in SEC play and is only three games out of fifth place.
For the second consecutive day, Auburn got a solid pitching performance in a victory over the Crimson Tide. Friday night it was a one-man show from Paul Burnside, but on Saturday it was a combined effort as starter Taylor Thompson and relievers Chris Dennis and Brett Butts allowed just seven hits, struck out eight and walked on two Alabama hitters in the win.
Coach Tommy Slater says his pitching was the difference again with Dennis in particular very strong in his best outing of the season.
"It was outstanding pitching and that was the name of the game," Slater says. "Taylor really threw the ball well and Chris did a great job. Our pitching staff really allowed us to stay in the game. (Catcher Josh) Donaldson did a really nice job of handling the pitchers today. That's two days in a row he's done a great job back there. Credit the staff and Josh for really keeping them in check to allow us to have the ability to come back."
Coach Butch Thompson has a talk with Taylor Thompson and the Auburn infield early in Saturday's game.
For both Auburn and Alabama, this game basically came down to one half-inning when the Tigers broke open a close game to get the win. Trailing by one in the bottom of the seventh, Auburn got a leadoff single by Eric Skinner and an error by second baseman Jeff Texada to put the leadoff man on second with nobody out.
Things would only get much worse for Alabama on this day though. A Bruce Edwards sacrifice bunt moved Skinner to third base with the tying run for Luke Greinke. On fire for the entire SEC season, the sophomore came though with a big single to left field that scored Edwards to tie the game.
Greinke says his confidence level is high at the moment and he was happy to be the man at the plate for the Tigers.
"I felt good because I started to recognize a pitching pattern that he had," Greinke says. "It was mostly breaking balls so I went up there looking for breaking ball and got the pitches I was looking for. Luckily, they fell in."
That was just the start of a wild inning as Greinke moved to second on an error by the Alabama first baseman on a pickoff attempt. A sharp single by Josh Donaldson to left field put runners on the corners with one out for Mike Bianucci. Facing a sidearm rigt-handed reliever in Josh Copeland, Bianucci's chances to get a good swing were going to be minimal, but Alabama decided to intentionally walk him anyway to face Joseph Sanders. On the first pitch to the plate, the ball got away from catcher Ryan Rhoden, allowing Greinke to score from third. Alabama finished the intentional walk then to put runners on first and second for Sanders.
Hitting what appeared to be a double play ball, Sanders reached first as Texada booted the ball for the second time in the inning. That brought Spruill to the plate looking to break open the game. Getting a pitch to drive, Spruill singled into right field to score both Donaldson and Bianucci and make it 6-3 Tigers. The Tigers wouldn't score again, but that was enough to earn the victory. Spruill says it's a huge win for the team and for an Auburn fan from Tuscaloosa.
"It means all the world," Spruill says. "I grew up in Tuscaloosa and the rivalry has always been huge. My dad went here. Being able to get three hits this weekend has been great. I couldn't ask for anything else. The sweep would make it great. We were talking about how we won in football and basketball and if we could finish it out and win all three in baseball I think it would be a neat year for Auburn."
It was Auburn that struck first on Saturday as the Tigers used a couple of gifts from Alabama to score the first run of the game. Leading off, Bruce Edwards was hit by a 1-2 pitch to put the Tigers in business. The SEC's leading base stealer, Edwards made Alabama starter Bernard Robert antsy on the bound and the result was a ball thrown into right field on an attempted pickoff play. The result was Edwards on third base with nobody out and Greinke at the plate. Auburn's most consistent hitter for the last month, Greinke lifted a fly ball to center field that easily scored Edwards to make it 1-0 Auburn.
Alabama would get the run right back in the top of the second against Thompson as with one out big first baseman Matt Bentley jumped on a 2-1 pitch and drove it deep over the wall in right field for a home run. It was his sixth of the season and tied the game at one.
The Crimson Tide would add another run in the third as an Emeel Salem two-out single was followed by a Texada double to make it 2-1 Alabama heading to the bottom of the third.
That's the way things would stay with Thompson and Robert both settling in on the mound, but Auburn got back even in the top of the fifth. With two outs and nobody on, Skinner and Edwards both worked walks from Robert to bring the hot Greinke to the plate. Getting a pitch to hit, the sophomore lined it into left field for a single to score Skinner and even things at two.
The back and forth continued in the top of the sixth and once again Thompson was victimized by the walk as he gave a free pass to Salem to lead off the inning. Texada then hit what could have easily been a double play, but the ball bounced off Thompson's glove for an infield single.
Following a fly ball to right that moved Salem to third, Kent Matthes lined a single to center field that easily scored Salem from third to give Alabama the lead again. That was the end of the day for Thompson as Dennis came on to get Bentley to hit into an inning-ending double play. He would retire all seven batters he faced before turning things over in the ninth to Butts to close it out.
The win improves Dennis to 2-3 on the season while Robert falls to 4-5. Dennis says getting the series win and having the chance to sweep is huge for this team after the way things started this season.
Two down and one to go for the Tigers.
"It was fun," Dennis says. "As a whole team, we hung in there. Their pitcher did a nice job today and I thought Taylor matched him pitch by pitch. I was fortunate to come in and get that double play ball and throw some strikes for us and let the defense work. The offense came through like we thought they would.
"The series win is huge," he adds. "Any time you can win a series in the SEC it's big. Plus, we've been in a position to get back in the race a little bit and we just haven't been able to win that extra game a couple of times. To go ahead and secure the series today is big."
Auburn sophomore Justin Bristow will be on the mound Sunday looking for the sweep as he will face sophomore Austin Hyatt from Alabama. The game is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. and can be seen on CSS.