Big Inning Propels Tigers Over Crimson Tide

Brian Fletcher's three-run home run helped Auburn defeat Alabama 5-4 Friday night.

Tuscaloosa, Ala.--Auburn scored four runs in the sixth inning and used a strong pitching performance to hold on as the Tigers defeated Alabama 5-4 Friday night to win the opening game of its baseball series against the Crimson Tide.

Trailing 3-1, Auburn got a three-run home run by Brian Fletcher and a RBI single by Justin Hargett for the win and improve to 24-19 overall, 8-11 in SEC play, while Alabama falls to 23-21, 8-11 in league action.

While the offense gets the headlines, it was Auburn's pitching that was the difference Friday night. Starter Grant Dayton earned his fifth SEC win of the season as he allowed three runs on seven hits in five innings to improve to 6-1 overall.

Relievers Michael Hurst, Evan Crawford and Bryan Woodall pitched the final four innings, giving up just three hits and one run. Woodall earned his league-leading 10th save of the season.

For Auburn it was a game of opportunity as the Tigers had 14 hits and had runners on in just about every inning, but only managed to score five runs. Coach Tommy Slater said for him it was a game that keyed on Dayton's performance and the performance of his bullpen.

"I thought Grant gave us a solid start," Slater said. "Hursty wasn't his best, but he got us through that inning. Crawford had a really strong seventh and then, Woody, what can you say. He did his job. He got six outs and did a great job.

"Offensively I thought for the most part our kids had a good approach at the plate," he added. "We hit a lot of balls hard the opposite way. Off of (Miers) Quigley and (Will) Stroup it's paramount because they live away from right-handed hitters. (Ryan) Jenkins had a really big at-bat with a two-strike hit up the middle. Justin Hargett had a nice at-bat and then obviously Brian Fletcher was outstanding.

Ryan Jenkins had a big hit for the Tigers against Alabama.

Trailing 3-1, things finally fell into place for the Auburn offense in the top of the sixth as Quigley constantly fell behind in the count and the Tigers made him pay. With one out in the inning Morris walked to bring Joseph Sanders to the plate. Getting ahead 2-0, Sanders ripped a double off the left field wall to put runners on first and second with nobody out for Fletcher. Again getting ahead, Fletcher took an inside pitch to right field, but had enough to get it out of the park for his fifth home run of the season to put Auburn on top 4-3.

"We had runners in scoring position so it was an opportunity to drive in some runs," Fletcher said. "He gave me a pitch over the plate that I could handle. I put a good swing on it and it just carried out for me. I put a good swing on it though. I knew I hit it pretty good and I saw the right fielder drifting back a little bit. I was just hoping the ball would carry out."

An infield single by David Cunningham got things going again as shortstop Matt Hall followed with a single of his own to put runners on first and second for Hargett. Reliever Will Stroup came on and Hargett greeted him with a single to center field that scored Cunningham from second. Hall was cut down trying to advance to third, but the damage was done.

Auburn led 5-3 heading to the bottom of the sixth when Hurst came on to replace Dayton. Alabama would add a single run in the ninth, but that would be it as the Tigers got the big victory. With one out Woodall gave up a double to May.

Moving to third on a balk, May watched as Alex Avila walked to bring the winning run to the plate. Woodall would settle in though as May scored on a fielder's choice and Matt Bentley's fly ball to foul territory in left field brought the game to a close with the Tigers ahead 5-4.

"That was a lot of fun," Dayton said. "It was tough. They battled, we battled, it was a great game. They had some big innings. We had to make some big plays, but that's what it's all about."

Auburn got off to an inauspicious start on Friday night as Trent Mummey led off with an infield single off Quigley to bring Mike Bianucci to the plate.

Continuing his subpar play in the SEC, Bianucci struck out for out number one. That meant it was time for Hunter Morris. In the designated hitter role Friday after bruising his side Tuesday night, Morris ripped one into the right field corner that Kent Matthes easily tracked down for out number two. Inexplicably Mummey was running on the crack of the bat and was doubled off for out number three.

It didn't take long for Alabama to make some noise on offense as leadoff man Josh Rutledge extended hit hitting streak to 20 games as he blasted a triple just over the head of Fletcher in left field. Settling in, Dayton struck out Ross Wilson and then got ahead 0-2 on Brandon May, but his pitch was in the dirt and Ryan Jenkins couldn't block it. That allowed Rutledge to score and put Alabama up 1-0. Dayton eventually struck out May and Alex Avila to end the inning with Auburn down one.

Both pitchers put it on cruise control until Alabama once again threatened in the bottom of the fourth. With two outs and nobody on Bentley hit a bloop single into right field to bring Wes Henderson to the plate. Hitting a chopper in front of the mound, Bentley reached as Dayton couldn't get the ball out of his glove.

Dayton then hit right fielder Jake Smith to load the bases for Alex Kubal. Trying to lay down a bunt, Kubal ran into the ball for out number three to end the inning.

Auburn finally got things going in the top of the fifth as Fletcher led off with a walk and moved to third when Cunningham ripped a one-hopper off the glove of Wilson at second base. The Tigers almost squandered the chance as Hall struck out and Justin Hargett popped up a bunt for out number two, but Jenkins came through in the clutch with a single up the middle to score Fletcher and tie the game.

The Tigers continued a pattern of scoring a run and then giving it right back as Rutledge doubled to start the bottom of the fifth and Wilson followed with an infield single just past Dayton. A wild pitch moved up both runners before a walk to May loaded the bases for Avila with nobody out.

Avila added to his team-leading total with a single to right that scored two runs despite a perfect throw by Bianucci from right field that got to the plate just head of the runner but wasn't handled by Jenkins. Dayton came back to get Matthes on a strikeout and Henderson to ground out to end the inning with Alabama leading 3-1, setting the stage for Auburn's come from behind victory.

The two teams resume the series on Saturday at 3 p.m. with Cory Luckie facing off against Austin Hyatt for Alabama. The game can be seen regionally on Fox Sports Net South.

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