The story of the game was Dayton. In his fourth start of the season, Dayton (2-1) allowed just three hits and three walks while striking out eight to pick up the win. After throwing 32 pitches in the first inning and getting out of a bases loaded jam, Dayton shut down Tennessee the rest of the night much to the delight of coach John Pawlowski.
"What a ballgame," Pawlowski said. "You look at the job Grant Dayton did and what a tremendous job. All night long he did a great job of keeping their leadoff hitter off base. He threw three pitches for strikes. He had three walks and eight punch outs. What a great job by him." Auburn's win was the first for the Tigers in an SEC opener since the 2001 season and the first in the opening SEC series in three years. Pawlowski said while it wasn't a perfect night, he was proud of his team for finding a way to pull out the victory with big hits by Morris, Sanders and Ben Jones.
"Ben, that was a huge base hit," Pawlowski said. "That was two outs and two strikes. He shot one through the left side. I thought both pitchers, Hernandez was everything we thought he was going to be. He kept us off balance all night, but Hunter stepped up. He had a home run and another base hit. Joe Sanders, certain guys stepped up. It's always important to get off to a good start on that Friday night against a good team on the road."
Facing Vol ace Nick Hernandez, the Tigers scratched out a run in the second as Morris laced a single off the glove of the first baseman to get things started. Brian Fletcher then doubled to center field to give Auburn two runners in scoring position with nobody out. A Kevin Patterson infield single followed to load the bases with nobody out. Despite that Auburn managed just one run on a groundout by Casey McElroy to take the early lead.
The Tigers came back for more in the third as a one-out single by Trent Mummey set the table for Auburn. Sanders followed with a deep fly ball to center field. Heads up, Mummey tagged and advanced to second in what would prove to be a huge move as Ben Jones singled him home to make it 2-0 Auburn.
With Dayton cruising on the mound, Morris led off the fourth with a long solo shot to right field, his third on the season. One inning later Sanders followed suit with his eighth of the season. Now ahead 4-0, Auburn turned to its pitching staff to get the job done.
On this night that was Dayton. He retired 17-straight Tennessee hitters until issuing a walk to Cody Grisham in the bottom of the eighth. Back to the top of the order, Josh Liles collected his second hit of the night to give the Vols come life. Auburn almost got out of the inning as a P.J. Polk ground ball to Sanders at third was thrown to Justin Hargett at second for out number two, but the relay throw to first wasn't in time for the double play. It didn't matter for Dayton as he struck out Kentrail Davis to end the threat and send the game to the ninth.
Reliever Austin Hubbard came on to pitch the ninth for the Tigers. He retired the first two batters he faced before an error by McElroy brought relief pitcher Jeff Lockwood to the plate. Getting a pitch to drive, he banged it over the wall for a two-run shot to break up Auburn's shutout.
Shortstop Zach Osborne then hit a chopper in front of the plate that catcher Tony Caldwell fielded, but his throw to first pulled Morris off the bag to bring the tying run to the plate. Pinch hitter Cody Brown followed with a single to bring Liles to the plate with a chance to win it. Getting behind 3-0, Hubbard came back to get a pop up to Morris at first to end the game and get the victory.
"That ninth inning got a little tense there, but I told Austin Hubbard is the bottom line is he got it done," Pawlowski said. "He pitched through some little adversity. We've got to make a couple of plays there in the ninth inning that we should have made. Throw in a walk and a home run, but he held his ground and did a good job of finishing it off for us."
Auburn and Tennessee return to action Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m. central time with freshman Jon Luke Jacobs on the mound against junior Stephen McCray for the Vols.