K-Korner Busy As Dayton Muzzles Dogs

Auburn starting pitcher Grant Dayton struck out a dozen Mississippi State Bulldogs as the Tigers won their SEC series opener.

Auburn, Ala.--Freshman Grant Dayton struck out a season team-high 12 batters for Auburn as the Tigers opened their three-game baseball series with a well-played 11-4 SEC victory over Mississippi State on Friday night.

In addition to Dayton allowing just one earned run and four hits in seven innings, the Tigers came through with clutch hits throughout the game and made a variety of nice plays in the field in support of the left-handed pitcher who was beaming after Auburn improved its record to 25-22 overall and 9-13 in the SEC.

"It was mainly my fastball that was working tonight," Dayton told Inside the Auburn Tigers. "I think I only threw 10 off-speed pitches in the whole game.

"It was a big help that we had our bats going," said Dayton, whose team scored 11 runs on 11 hits. "The outfielders made some good plays, too. They were running down some balls. They played great and I can say we had a great game tonight.

"I would say this is one of the best games we played this year," he added. "Offensively, we are happy. Defensively, we are happy."

Dayton said he was disappointed he gave up a three-run homer in the seventh inning, but that was one of just four hits he allowed as a crowd of 2,115 watched the action at Plainsman Park.

Dayton improved his record to 7-1 and picked up his sixth SEC victory, the most for an Auburn pitcher in a single season since Hayden Gliemmo got six SEC wins in 1998. His 12 strikeouts were the most for a Tiger since Eric Branden had 12 in a perfect game on March 12, 2002 vs. Murray State.

"He had command of all three of his pitches and when that happens he is hard to beat," said catcher Ryan Jenkins, who was allowed to call the pitches on Friday night.

In addition to handling that assignment beautifully, Jenkins hit his first homer of the season and drove home two runs and scored two.

Eight of Auburn's nine starters got a hit and seven had at least one RBI while eight Tigers scored runs. The victory, combined with a loss by Ole Miss vs. Georgia, puts the Tigers two games out of first place in the SEC West with eight to play.

"The story of this game was Grant Dayton," said Auburn coach Tom Slater. "He threw the ball really, really well. Grant has great deception. It's not that he is lighting up radar guns, but his 85 or 86 (miles per hour pitch) is so deceptive with his delivery. He just gets on hitters."

Slater said he thought the game was one of AU's best performances of the season. "We played good defense and we swung the bats well up and down the lineup," he said. "It was just a quality performance by the ballclub up and down the lineup."

Slater noted that Trent Mummey set the tone offensively in the bottom of the first inning after a strong start by Dayton.

Auburn took a quick lead as leadoff hitter Mummey hit a line drive single to left field and took second base on a fielding error. He moved to third base on a fly ball to right field by Mike Bianucci and scored on a ground out by Hunter Morris.

Dayton breezed through the first two innings, but a walk and a hit batter put two runners on base with one out. However, he got out of trouble by striking out Jason Nappi with runners on second and third to end the threat.

The Bulldogs didn't get a hit until the fourth inning, but it was a big one. A double by Nappi to left center field scored Tyler Moore from first base. Moore opened the inning by drawing a base on balls. Dayton rallied to end the threat with a strikeout and a ground ball to first base.

In the bottom of the fourth, Joseph Sanders walked to open the inning and then moved to third on a double by David Cunningham to the canyon in left center field that ticked off the glove of the left fielder.

The Tigers then got a tough break as a line shot by David Cunningham was pulled in just off the ground by the second baseman for out one.

The next batter, shortstop Matt Hall, drilled a pitch deep to right field that brought home a run on a sacrifice fly and sent Cunningham to third base. Justin Hargett came through with a two-out single, a hard-hit ground ball through the middle to put the Tigers up 3-1. Slater said that was one of the key hits of the game.

Ryan Jenkins

The next batter, number nine hitter Jenkins, then ripped his first home run of the year, a towering shot over the left-center field portion of the Green Monster. His second career college homer put the Tigers up 5-1.

The Tigers kept the pressure on in the fifth inning, chasing starting pitcher Chad Crosswhite with one more run on the board and runners on first and second when Lee Swindle was called in from the bullpen with nobody out.

Bianucci opened the inning with a walk and raced to third base on a line drive to right field by Hunter Morris. Joseph Sanders followed with a line drive that almost hit the pitcher and scored a run to make it 6-1 when MSU coach Ron Polk made the call to the bullpen.

The Bulldogs had an opportunity to turn a double play on a ground ball to shortstop by Fletcher, but were able to just get the lead runner at second putting Tigers on the corners with one out for Cunningham. His ground ball up the middle just got by the shortstop for an RBI putting the Tigers up 7-1.

Hall grounded out to short for out two leaving runners on first and third for Hargett. Hall then purposely got in a rundown on an attempted steal to give the runner on third a chance to score, the Bulldogs executed the throw to the plate to cut down the lead runner and end the inning.

The Tigers added a run in the sixth inning as a double by Biannuci to center field scored Hargett, who reached on a leadoff single.

In the top of the seventh inning, the Bulldogs got three unearned runs when Ryan Collins smashed a two-out homer over the right field fence to cut the Tiger lead to 8-4. An error on Cunningham on a ground ball to third kept the inning alive prior to the long ball.

The Tigers went to the bullpen in the eighth with Evan Crawford allowing a leadoff single before getting out of the inning. In the bottom of the eighth, the Tigers added some insurance with help from the Bulldogs.

Hall reached first base on an error by the shortstop and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Hargett. He reached third on an infield single by Jenkins and scored on a wild pitch to put the Tigers ahead 9-4.

With two outs and a runner on third, Bianucci hit a rocket over the Green Monster for his ninth home run of the season. That put the Tigers up 11-4.

Crawford pitched two innings of scoreless relief. The Tigers will now try to win the series on Saturday evening. The first pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m. with Taylor Thompson looking to improve his 2-4 record vs. 2-5 Ricky Bowen for the Bulldogs, who dropped to 18-27 overall and 6-16 in the SEC.

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