Tigers Win Opener On Hargett Walk-Off Homer

Auburn second baseman Justin Hargett's second career home run gave the Tigers a dramatic opening day baseball victory over Elon.

Auburn, Ala.--Sophomore second baseman Justin Hargett hit a two-out, two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the Auburn Tigers a dramatic 5-3 win over Elon to open the John Pawlowski era at Auburn Friday at Plainsman Park.

Hitless in three at-bats in the game, Hargett drove a fastball deep over the wall in center field off Elon's Jared Kernodle to set off a huge celebration at home plate by the Tigers.

With just one home run last season as a freshman, Hargett has been anything but a power hitter in his time at Auburn. While that may still be the case, the Hartselle native said he knew when he hit the ball in the ninth it had a chance to go.

"I struggled early in the game and wasn't seeing the ball real well," Hargett said. "He threw me a fastball, which is exactly what I was looking for. He started me off with a breaking ball, which I struggled with all day. Then he came back with a fastball and I missed it. He came back with another one and that's what I was looking for. The ball carried out. I put a pretty good swing on it.

"I thought it had a chance," he added. "It really felt good when I hit it. I really wasn't watching it, I was trying to run. I'm never sure because I'm not really a power hitter. I knew it had good flight on it."

Hargett is mobbed at the plate following his game winning blast.

The blast gave Auburn the victory in Pawlowski's first game as head coach baseball coach of the Tigers after making the move from College of Charleston. While it is just one game, Pawlowski said that getting that win is important because of what it does for his team.

"What we're trying to do and install with these guys is the confidence and the way we want to play," he said. "I think it's important to get off to a winning start and to see the excitement of the kids knowing they've worked hard/

"It's never easy," the coach added. "Tomorrow will be another tough game against Elon. We'll have to come ready to play again tomorrow."

On the mound Auburn starter Grant Dayton was very good as he allowed just five hits and one run in seven innings of work. Michael Hurst allowed two unearned runs out of the bullpen while Austin Hubbard got the victory, allowing two hits and one inherited runner to score in the eighth. He pitched a scoreless ninth to set the stage for Hargett.

At the plate Joseph Sanders, Brian Fletcher and freshman shortstop Casey McElroy each had two hits while freshman catcher Caleb Bowen was 0-3, but had two key RBI groundouts early in the game to give the Tigers the lead.

The Phoenix got on the board first as Chase Austin doubled to right field off Dayton and moved to third base on a fly ball to right field for catcher Dallas Tarleton. Doing his job, Tarleton hit a ground ball to McElroy at shortstop to easily score Austin from third. The fielder's choice gave Elon a 1-0 lead.

Auburn answered back in similar fashion in the bottom of the second as Brian Fletcher singled up the middle to get things going, setting up the bottom of the Tigers' order. Following a Kevin Patterson strikeout, McElroy doubled to left field to put runners on second and third for Bowen. A freshman from Anniston's Saks High, Bowen hit a ground ball to the right side to score Fletcher and tie the game at one. Justin Hargett struck out to end the inning.

Casey McElroy had two hits for the Tigers in his first start.

With Dayton cruising on the mound, Auburn came back for more in the fourth and it was a familiar trio that did the damage. Fletcher singled up the middle to lead off the inning and Patterson struck out to bring McElroy back to the plate. A single to right field moved Fletcher to third for Bowen he again came through with a ground ball to second to score Fletcher and give Auburn the 2-1 advantage.

The lead was extended in the fifth thanks to one swing of the bat by Sanders. Getting a pitch to drive, Sanders hit Auburn's first home run of the season on a long blast just to the left of the scoreboard in left center. With the lead now 3-1, Dayton coasted through seven innings before turning things over to the bullpen in the eighth.

That proved to be an adventure as Hurst came on and got the first two hitters before Cory Harrilchak singled to give the Phoenix some life. Another single by pinch hitter Pat Irvine put runners on first and second with two outs for Bennett Davis. Hurst got what he was looking for with a ground ball to third, but Sanders misplayed it for an error to cut the lead to one.

Turning things over to Hubbard, the Tigers allowed the tying run to score as Austin singled to right field to score Irvine and tie the game at three heading to the bottom of the eighth. Hubbard pitched a scoreless ninth, setting the stage for Hargett's heroics in the ninth.

Auburn returns to action Saturday at 3 p.m. when the Tigers take on Elon in game two of the series. Freshman Jon Luke Jacobs will take the mound against Ken Ferrer for the Phoenix.

Auburn 5, Elon 3 (Feb 20, 2009 at Auburn, Ala.)
---------------------------------------------------------------------- Elon................ 010 000 020 - 3 9 0
Auburn.............. 010 110 002 - 5 9 1
---------------------------------------------------------------------- Win-Austin Hubbard(1-0) Loss-Jared Kernodle(0-1)

HR AU--Joseph Sanders; Justin Hargett.

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