Hoover, Ala.--Joseph Sanders smashed a grand slam and double to power an eight-run fourth inning to lead the Auburn Tigers to a 14-6 baseball win over the Samford Bulldogs at Regions Park Wednesday night.
Five Auburn pitchers combined to allow nine hits with freshman Bradley Hendrix getting the win in relief. Auburn improves to 16-9 on the season while Samford falls to 12-8.
While the offense was the main story, the biggest news from Wednesday's game was the return of Auburn junior pitcher Paul Burnside to the mound for the first time this season. Out with a broken collarbone since Christmas, Burnside gave up two runs on two hits in one inning. Coach Tommy Slater said it was good to see his ace back on the mound once again.
"It's just special to get him back out there," Slater said. "Obviously, he's not near where he's going to be and what he was, but to get him in a game and facing real hitters again for the first time in 11 months I couldn't be happier for him. I know the whole team feels that way."
Paul Burnside throws a pitch against Samford.
On a night when the Tigers got production from a variety of players it was a pair of juniors who led the way. Mike Bianucci and Matt Hall both had three hits for the Tigers while Sanders, Trent Mummey and Kevin Patterson added two hits each. Slater said he was proud of the performance of his team at the plate in the victory.
"Up and down the lineup we had good at-bats all night long," Slater said. "Our guys just did a tremendous job offensively. We had a lot of line drives, a lot of hard outs, a lot of hard balls on the ground. We pressured their defense with every hard hit ball and that's what you want to see."
Hendrix was outstanding in his four innings, giving up just one run on three hits. Following Burnside's one inning Bryan Woodall closed it out with a scoreless inning in the ninth. Slater said that Hendrix really gave them what they were looking for on the mound.
"Hendrix was outstanding," Slater said. "Cory gives us a really nice first inning. Hendrix then gives us four really strong innings. He did a great job. The innings they scored we walked people. We've got to stay away from that. Bryan, we wanted to get him one inning. He threw the ball well in the ninth, but Bradley was outstanding. He commanded the strike zone, had three pitches working tonight, and really did a great job."
Auburn got the night off to a bang with two outs in the first inning as Mike Bianucci doubled to right-center with freshman Hunter Morris on deck. After having his 10-game hitting streak broken in a win over Mercer Tuesday night, Morris got right back to work as he tripled to center field to score Bianucci and put Auburn up 1-0.
Mike Bianucci had a big night with three hits and two runs score along with two walks.
Scheduled to pitch just the first inning just to get some work in, Luckie allowed only a single in a scoreless first. Shuman came in and pitched a scoreless second before Samford would touch him up for three runs in the third, but not before Auburn added a run in the top of the inning. Leading off, shortstop Matt Hall doubled to left field and eventually scored on a balk from Samford starter Michael Jarry.
Now up 2-0, Auburn gave those runs back and one more in the bottom of the third as Shuman walked the first two hitters before leadoff man Alex Godshall put down a perfect bunt single to load the bases with still nobody out.
Back to back singles by Wayne Miller and Michael Marseco followed to score single runs and a sacrifice fly accounted for run three, but that would be it as Shuman settled down to retire the final two batters and keep the score 3-2 Samford.
That's when Auburn's offense would break loose with the inning of the year to this point. Sanders led off the inning with a double to left and finished it off with a grand slam. In between the Tigers scored four runs to make it eight for the inning. On second following his double, Sanders moved to third on an error by Samford first baseman Marcus Rodriguez. A sacrifice fly by Brian Fletcher scored Sanders to tie the game at three, but that was just the start of things.
Catcher Tony Caldwell reached on an error by Marseco to put runners on the corners for Hall. The junior transfer was hit by a pitch to load the bases for Trent Mummey. Hitless on the night, Mummey took a pitch down the left field line for a double. The hit scored two and put the Tigers up 5-3. A ground ball by Hargett scored another run to put Auburn up three and bring the heart of the order to the plate.
With a runner on third the Bulldogs walked Bianucci, who stole second to move into scoring position. That prompted a walk to Morris as well to load the bases for Sanders. Taking offense to that strategy, Sanders turned on an inside pitch and took it out of the yard over the 340 sign in left field for a grand slam. That gave Auburn a commanding 10-3 lead heading to the bottom of the fourth.
"I was seeing the ball good tonight," Sanders said. "Luckily guys were getting on and everybody was swinging it well. We did a good job of putting the ball in play and making them make plays. It worked out for us.
"The first pitch was a change up that I took," Sanders said. "I knew he was going to try to fill up the strike zone again because he threw me two fastballs in my first at-bat. I was just looking fastball and he gave it to me. I thought it was going to be foul. I thought it was hooking."
Samford would get one run back in the inning, but Auburn would again answer with two runs in the top of the fifth. With one out Hall again came through as he singled to left field. Mummey followed with a single to right field that Miller misplayed. The error allowed Hall to score and Mummey to move all the way to third. Another Hargett ground ball to second scored Mummey to make it 12-4 Auburn.
Bianucci almost added another run to the total as Bianucci blasted one deep to left field and raced all the way to third before lobbying for a home run. Bianucci and the Auburn contingent thought the ball left the yard, but the play was ruled a triple. A Morris fly ball brought the inning to a close with Auburn comfortably ahead. Both teams added a pair of late runs to make the final 14-6.
Auburn returns to action this weekend in a three-game series against Tennessee at Plainsman Park. Game times for the series are 6 p.m. on Friday, 3 p.m. on Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday.