Trailing 7-6 after a four-run eighth inning by Alabama, Auburn answered as freshman shortstop Casey McElroy tripled to lead things off. Pinch runner Bradley Ray scored on a Justin Hargett to tie the game, but things were just getting interesting. Back to the top of the order, center fielder Trent Mummey pulled a Jimmy Nelson pitch past the first baseman for a double to put the go-ahead run in scoring position for senior Ben Jones.
Already with two hits on the night, Jones went with an outside pitch and drove it off the top of the left field wall for a double. The shot gave Auburn the 8-7 lead and set the stage for Blatt's big finish. Closing out the eighth, Blatt mowed down Alabama in the ninth to earn his first collegiate victory. Coach John Pawlowski said it was a classic game for his team with everyone stepping up for the win.
"Some guys really stepped up for us," Pawlowski said. "Ben Jones had a great ballgame. He came up with the last hit. During the course of the game certain guys have to step up. Zach Blatt came out of the bullpen and faced six guys and did a tremendous job. We really needed that. I thought it was a great ballgame on both sides."
Coach John Pawlowski accepts the trophy.
On the mound Blatt earned the victory with two scoreless innings, striking out two and not allowing a hit. Starter Paul Burnside allowed no earned runs on four hits in four and one/third innings and was solid pitching in his hometown. Reliever Michael Hurst gave up two runs in two and two/thirds while Taylor Thompson allowed two runs on two hits without recording an out.
An Opelika native, Blatt said for him Tuesday was the perfect way to earn his first career victory.
"I was pumped," Blatt said. "It has been a dream of mine my whole life, one day getting the opportunity to beat Bama like that. It was an opportunity where coach had the faith in me to get out there and throw the ball. I just went out there and did what I could.
"I knew I had it in me," he added. "I'm not a big guy, but I have to get out there and intimidate as much as I can and get after it. That's all I can do."
With three hits on the night, Jones led an offensive attack that struck for three quick runs in the first and kept chipping away at Alabama until the breakthrough ninth. Pawlowski said Jones has worked hard to have a moment like Tuesday night.
"It's great to see a senior who has stepped up," Pawlowski said. "He's been waiting for his opportunity to get a chance to play every day. He's taken advantage of it. He's had some huge at-bats for us, none other than his big one here in the ninth."
Ben Jones had a huge night for the Tigers.
In the first Auburn got to work right away against Alabama starter David Head. Working the count, Mummey and Joseph Sanders both walked to put the Tigers in business. Working the count full, Jones then singled to right field to load the bases with nobody out for the heart of the Auburn order.
Back in the lineup at first base after missing much of the last two weeks because of a sore back, Hunter Morris couldn't deliver as he popped up to the third baseman for the first out. That set Brian Fletcher up for the kill as he drove a 3-2 pitch to deep left-center field. The ball carried just inches from going out of the park four a double. All three runners scored to give Auburn the early 3-0 advantage.
Struggling from the outset, Burnside allowed three base runners, but got out of the inning with no damage thanks to a strikeout and caught stealing by catcher Tony Caldwell. Back at the plate, Mummey continued his hot streak as he launched a one-out pitch over the right field wall for his seventh home run of the season. The solo shot gave Auburn a 4-0 lead, but Alabama would begin to cut into things in the third.
Leading off, number nine hitter Alex Kubal hit a roller off Burnside's glove for an infield single. The Montgomery native then hit leadoff man Josh Rutledge to put the Crimson Tide in business. Burnside came back to get the next two batters before the nation's home run leader Kent Matthes stepped to the plate. With nine already on the season, Matthes got his arms extended and drove a pitch off the batter's eye in center field over 400 feet away. That put Alabama right back in the game with Auburn's lead cut to 4-3.
Manufacturing runs is something Auburn hasn't done a good job of this season, but that was exactly what happened in the fourth to put the Tigers back in front by three. Leading off, Kevin Patterson worked a walk and Caldwell followed with a single off reliever Austin Graham to put runners on first and second with nobody out. With shortstop McElroy at the plate, Graham balked to move both into scoring position and a wild pitch then scored Patterson and put Caldwell at third. One batter later Hargett squeezed home Caldwell to give the Tigers a 6-3 advantage.
Burnside again escaped trouble in the bottom of the fourth as Taylor Dugas singled and Jake Smith doubled to put runners in scoring position with just one out. Already with a hit on the night, Burnside got Kubal on a liner to first and struck out Rutledge to end the threat. Alabama threatened again in the fifth as Alabama loaded the bases before Hurst came on to retire Dugas on a top to McElroy to end the inning with Auburn still up by three.
That stood until the eighth when Alabama scored four runs off Hurst and Thompson to take the lead for the first time on the night. Ross Wilson led off the inning with an infield single before back-to-back doubles by Moore and Dugas brought Smith to the plate against Thompson. His long home run to center put Alabama in front 7-6, but the Tigers would answer in dramatic fashion to pull out the victory.
The Tigers return to action Wednesday night at 6 p.m. when they face Western Kentucky at Plainsman Park.