Auburn, Ala.--Auburn came back from a 4-1 deficit with three runs in the fifth and sixth innings and held off the second-ranked Kentucky Wildcats behind pitchers Cory Luckie and Bryan Woodall to earn a 7-5 victory and a series win. Auburn improves to 14-8, 2-3 in SEC play while Kentucky falls to 19-2, 3-2 in league action.
This was a game about resiliency for the Tigers, both on the mound and at the plate. Facing one of the nation's top offensive teams, Luckie was outstanding in picking up his third win of the season. In eight innings he allowed five runs on eight hits and struck out five. Woodall came on to close things out in the ninth to earn his sixth save, but Slater said the win was all about Luckie.
"Cory Luckie, that says it all," Coach Tommy Slater said following the victory. "He had three pitches for strikes all day long. Nothing really bothers the kid. He's got a lot of confidence. Our kids love playing behind him because they know it's going to be strikes all day long. I thought he did a great job changing speeds. Just an outstanding job by Cory."
It wasn't a bad night at the plate either for the Tigers. Facing one of the country's top talents in big Scott Green, who entered the game with a 2-0 record and having allowed just four earned runs in 22 innings this season, Auburn touched him up for four earned runs on three hits in four and two/thirds innings. The leader was Joseph Sanders, who had a big two-out double to score three in the fifth and then followed that up with a bunt single in the sixth for his fourth RBI of the day.
"The at-bat before Joseph's double he smoked the ball to deep right and their kid ran it down," Slater said. "When Joe is on the ball that way that kind of tells you he's going to have a good day…the next at bat he had the big double and then the drag to get us another run. That was good baseball."
Tied at four in the sixth, Auburn came to the plate looking to break things open and back to back singles by Matt Hall and Trent Mummey with one out got the engine going. A double steal on a strikeout of Justin Hargett moved both runners up and Kentucky did the percentage move to walk Mike Bianucci intentionally to load the bases for Hunter Morris.
Already with an RBI on the night, Morris lined a pitch into right field for a single. The hit scored both Hall and Mummey to put the Tigers up 6-4 and brought Sanders to the plate. With runners on the corners, Sanders put down a perfect bunt to reach first.
Hunter Morris singles to right to break open a tie game on Saturday.
Bianucci scored on the plate to make it 7-4 and give the Tigers the advantage they needed to get the win. Sanders said it was huge to get the victory and now have the chance to go for a sweep on Sunday.
"We battled today very well," Sanders said. "Nuc (Bianucci) did a great job today leading things off and getting on base a lot for us. He definitely came through with some big hits today to get us started. It felt good to get a win."
For the second consecutive day the Auburn Tigers jumped on top early against the second-ranked Kentucky Wildcats. In the bottom of the first Hargett worked a walk from Green and stole second to move into scoring position. A sharp single by Bianucci to center field put runners on the corners for Morris and the freshman came through with a fly ball to center. The hit easily scored Hargett to give Auburn a 1-0 advantage.
Cruising on the mound, both pitchers settled in a kept things scoreless until Kentucky finally got to Luckie in the top of the fifth, but not before some trickery from the Tigers helped out in the fourth. Back to back singles by Brian Spear and Sawyer Carroll seemed to have the Wildcats on the verge of breaking things open, but Hall pulled off a hidden ball trick at second on Carroll's hit to catch Spear napping and swing the momentum back in Auburn's favor. Luckie says it's something that was huge at the moment and all due to Hall.
"It's something we played around with in the fall," Luckie said. "We actually got Bianucci a couple of times with it. It's something we worked on in the fall. Matt Hall brought it with him here. He's a smart player. That really helped out that inning.
"I get nervous every time he comes to me with a man on second base," he added. "He has the ball in his glove and I say ‘oh God it's coming'. He didn't drop the ball in my glove and I'm like ‘all right here we go'. I had to stay off the mound. It was a little bit of communication for us mentally."
Matt Hall had a good day for the Tigers with two hits and also his big play on defense. Here he turns a double play against the Wildcats.
Kentucky finally to got to Luckie in the fifth though. With one out Tyler Howe walked to give the Wildcats some life and they responded with a big inning. Up next, shortstop Chris Wade laid down a perfect bunt single to put runners on first and second for number nine hitter Troy Frazier.
Getting a pitch to hit, Frazier hit his second home run of the season off the scoreboard to put the Wildcats up 3-1. A two-out walk eventually led to another Kentucky run as Collin Cowgill walked, stole second, advanced to third on an error by catcher Ryan Jenkins, and scored on an error by Hall at short. Now trailing 4-1, Auburn went to work in the bottom of the fifth at the plate.
With two outs and nobody on, Hargett walked and moved to second on a Bianucci single. A walk to Morris followed to load the bases for Sanders. Facing reliever Andrew Albers, Sanders poked one into the right field corner for a double. The hit cleared the bases to tie the game at four and set the stage for some late inning heroics by the Tigers.
Auburn junior Luke Greinke will get the call on Easter Sunday for the Tigers as they look for their first sweep in SEC action since doing the same to Kentucky in 2003. The Wildcats will counter with senior Scott Dombrowski. The game is scheduled for a 2 p.m. start.