Jumping out to a 9-1 advantage, the game was never a comfortable one for the Tigers as South Alabama fought back to cut the lead down to three in the seventh inning. Auburn got some quality relief pitching from Austin Hubbard in a key situation and scored two insurance runs to secure the win, but coach John Pawlowski said it wasn't easy.
"I thought offensively we came out, when you score six runs in the first and three in the second, you gain a lot of confidence," Pawlowski said. "This game, we never seemed like we could put it away. They kept battling back. In the eighth inning we got first and third with nobody out and Hub comes in and gets some big strikeouts to end that inning."
Offensively the story was Fletcher. Coming into the game hitting just .254, Fletcher pounded the baseball from start to finish Wednesday night with four hits, including three home run, and six RBI. His three home runs in the game was the first for an Auburn players since Josh Etheredge accomplished the feat against Kentucky in 1996. He said it was a big game for him from a confidence standpoint.
"It was one of those days," Fletcher said. "It's sort of a relief. I struggled through some of the early games. Coming out and seeing the ball really well and hitting the ball really well is just a good feeling."
While Hubbard finished things off, senior starter Paul Burnside picked up his first win since April 20, 2007 by allowing five earned runs on eight hits in five and one/third innings. Even though it wasn't perfect, Burnside said getting some early runs helped him settle into the game and get deep for the team.
"It felt pretty good tonight," Burnside said. "It's been a while since I have been able to go this deep into a game. It's a little bit easier when your hitters put up nine runs in the first two innings. It's just your job to throw strikes and prevent the big inning after that."
South Alabama got the scoring started with a single run in the first after back to back singles by Clint Reynolds and Zach Grichor to start the game, but it was Auburn that put on an offensive show in the bottom half of the first. A leadoff walk to Justin Hargett brought Trent Mummey to the plate and the sophomore hit a long homer over the right field wall for his 13th of the season. That gave the Tigers a quick 2-1 lead, but it was just the start.
Up next, Joseph Sanders continued his home run barrage with a solo shot to left field. The blast was number 17 for Sanders, moving him into a tie for ninth in Auburn history with Doug Gilcrease and Bo Jackson. Following a walk to Ben Jones and a single by Hunter Morris, Fletcher had his first of the night with a monster shot to left field. The blast put Auburn up 6-1 after just one inning of play.
In the second, Sanders doubled with one out and moved to third on a ground ball by Jones. Following a walk to Morris, Sanders scored and Morris moved to second on a wild pitch to bring Fletcher to the plate. Coming through again, Fletcher hit one off the facing of the scoreboard in left-center. It was his 11th of the season and 78 for the Tigers for the year as they moved out to a 9-1 advantage.
The Jaguars began to chip away with two runs in the third and a single run in the fourth to make it 9-4, but Burnside settled in to pitch a scoreless fifth. That set the stage for Fletcher in the bottom of the inning. With one out he took a Jarrett Bailey pitch off the scoreboard for his third homer of the night. That gave Auburn a 10-4 lead, but things would get interesting before this one was done.
South Alabama added a single run in the sixth before putting a scare into the Tigers in the seventh. Facing reliever Chris O'Neill, Adam Heisler doubled to lead off the inning. David Doss then reached on an error by Sanders to put runners on the corners with nobody out. Another double, this one by Brad Hook, scored Heisler and put two into scoring position. Two walks sandwiched by a strikeout pushed across the second run before Zach Blatt came on to close out the inning with a strikeout and groundout.
Auburn added a single run in the eighth as Fletcher walked, moved to second on a wild pitch and advanced to third on an error by the catcher. Following a walk to Tony Caldwell, he ran from first and drew a throw from the plate. Running on the throw, Fletcher scored to make it 11-7 Tigers.
In the eighth Hubbard came on to replace Blatt with runners on first and third and nobody out. Facing the heart of the USA order, Hubbard struck out Doss, Ryan Bohanan and Sean Laird to end the inning. Auburn added another run in the bottom of the eighth and Hubbard finished things off for his eighth save of the season with a scoreless ninth.
At the plate Fletcher led the way with four hits while Sanders, Jones and Morris all had two hits. O'Reilly's three hits paced the South Alabama attack.
Auburn returns to action this weekend in a three-game series at South Carolina. Game times for the weekend are 7 p.m. on Friday, 4 p.m. on Saturday, and 1:30 p.m. on Sunday. All games are EDT with Saturday's game on SportSouth.