Pitching a career-high six innings in his first college start, Dayton allowed just one earned run on six hits while striking out an Auburn season-high eight batters. Throwing just 84 pitches, Dayton's outing has to be the most impressive for an Auburn starter this season and Coach Tommy Slater said he couldn't have been happier with Dayton's start.
"Grant really pitched well," Slater said. "Pitchability is the word, a strike thrower. He located and that's what he's been doing for us out of the bullpen. To see him go out tonight in his first start he really located and pitched well."
Sitting out last season after a stellar career at Bob Jones High in Madison, the 6-2 lefty had not allowed a run in seven innings of relief this season. Still he notes that it was a little different making the start and he was happy to get a big cushion early to take the pressure off.
"It was fun," Dayton said. "I went out there in the first inning and had a lot of fun. In the second inning I had that lead so it was real comforting. I was able to get the job done. I found out that you can't leave the ball up and if you leave it up they're going to hit it pretty hard. Keeping it down in the strike zone was real important.
"I had two appearances so far so there were nerves then, but that kind of got it out of the way," he added. "I was comfortable. I'm playing with a bunch of great guys so they're pretty comforting too."
Auburn wasted little time in putting a stamp on Thursday's game with a huge first inning against talented VMI starter Jason Farley. Entering the game with a 1-0 record and an ERA of just 1.69, Farley had been very good this season, but on this night the Tigers jumped on him early and often. It started with a Luke Greinke double and ended with a Greinke pop up to end the inning and in between the Tigers put six runs on the board.
With Greinke on third following a passed ball, freshman Justin Hargett worked a walk to put runners on for Mike Bianucci. Hitting a towering fly ball to right field, Bianucci reached first when the ball was misplayed by Brian Sandridge. Greinke scored on the play to make it 1-0 Auburn. Another walk, this one to Hunter Morris, brought Joseph Sanders to the plate with the bases loaded and the sophomore laced a double into right field that cleared the bases to give the Tigers a four-run advantage.
Joseph Sanders has 10 RBI this season, one of three Auburn players in double digits joining Mike Bianucci and Hunter Morris.
They weren't done though as a single by Kevin Patterson drove in Sanders to make it 5-0 Auburn. Another walk, this time to Brian Fletcher, followed by a ground ball moved Patterson to third base where he would score on a Matt Hall ground ball to short. Staked to a six-run cushion after one inning, Dayton would make that lead stand up.
Mowing down Keydet after Keydet hitter, Dayton locked into a pitching battle with Farley for the next three innings as neither team could manage much offense. VMI finally mounted a challenge in the top of the fifth, but Dayton would escape without any damage. With one out Alex Haitsuka singled to center field and A.J. Yoder followed with a single of his own. Dayton would respond as he got Justin Hess and Shane Geisslinger to end the inning and keep the shutout.
Auburn added a single run in the bottom of the fifth on a Patterson ground ball that scored Morris from third after the big first baseman led off the inning with a single. VMI got the run back in the sixth on a weird play. With one out Mike Roberts hit a line drive to center field that Greinke misplayed and then slipped down. Never slowing down, Roberts rounded the bases to score despite falling down rounding third base. That would be all for the Keydets though as Dayton closed out his performance with back to back strikeouts to keep the lead at 7-1.
The Tigers added two more runs in the sixth as Ryan Jenkins led off the inning with a single and Hall followed with a single as well to move Jenkins to third and put two on and nobody out for the top of the order. In for Greinke, Trent Mummey's fly ball to center field scored Jenkins for Auburn's eighth run of the game. A walk to Hargett and a wild pitch moved both runners into scoring position where Hall would score on a shallow pop up by Bianucci to the VMI first baseman in foul territory.
Taylor Thompson came on in relief of Dayton in the seventh and pitched a scoreless inning, but the Keydets touched the sophomore for a single run in the eighth. Junior Bryan Woodall came on to finish things off in the ninth, allowing a run on two hits to make the final 9-3 Tigers.
At the plate Auburn had just nine hits on the night with Morris the only player with two. He also scored two runs on the night. Sanders led the team with three RBI while both Patterson and Bianucci added two runs batted in. Bianucci's hitting streak came to an end at 16 games. Slater said although the numbers don't show it he thought his team did a good job at the plate.
"I thought we did a nice job early," Slater said. "Farley was a little erratic early. He was behind in the count a lot. Once he relaxed and settled in he really threw the ball well. Jason is going to be a really good pitcher for VMI….I thought our at bats were pretty quality throughout the night. I was happy with the at bats for the most part."
Auburn and VMI play game two of a four-game series Friday night at 6 at Plainsman Park. Freshman Bradley Hendrix (0-0, 3.00 ERA) takes the mound against senior Tray Barham (1-0, 2.38) for the Keydets.