Gamble's Late Game Heroics Carry Tigers To Victory

Auburn, Ala.--Sean Gamble had seen better days in his baseball career. Hitless on the day, he had yet to get a ball out of the infield in three at-bats. One swing changed all of that as well as the outcome of Auburn's 2003 season opener.

Trailing 4-2 in the bottom of the ninth inning with two outs and runners on first and second, the sophomore from Montgomery drilled a fastball deep into the Auburn bullpen beyond the right field fence for a game-winning home run. His blast gave the Tigers a dramatic 5-4 victory over the VCU Rams on Friday afternoon at Plainsman Park on a cold, blustery February day.

"Sean is just that kind of guy," Auburn Coach Steve Renfroe said following the win. "He was just shaking his head and saying let me go. He's just that kind of player."

After hitting just three home runs last season in 203 at-bats, the left-fielder said coming to the plate Friday he wasn't looking to end the game on one swing, but he's happy it ended that way.

"I was going to take but we decided that if he threw me a fastball I would try to get the bat out there and drive it somewhere," Gamble said of facing VCU pitcher Brian Marshall. "I was just waiting on that because that is the way I ended my year last year in that same situation. I'm just glad I could capitalize on it.

"I was just trying to get a good swing on it. I knew that if I hit a double that Chuck (Jeroloman) would score on it. I just wanted to make solid contact."

Gamble's at-bat in the ninth wouldn't have been possible without the never-say-die attitude of Jeroloman. With Tug Hulett on first base after walking with one out in the inning, Jeroloman came to the plate with two outs hoping to get on base and let the top of the Auburn order try to tie the game or possibly win it. Pushing the count to 3-2 against Marshall, Jeroloman fouled off five straight pitches before forcing ball four. Renfroe said Jeroloman's at-bat was a key to the victory and the sophomore shortstop was beaming about the win following the game.

"It was awesome to see that ball fly over the wall," Jeroloman said of Gamble's home run. "I was just trying to fight him off in the hopes that he would miss somewhere to me and I would be able to drive the ball somewhere. He didn't, he wouldn't give in at all. I just kept fighting him off and fighting him off. I drew a walk out of it and Gamble came up and drove one."

Reliever Cory Dueitt picked up the win for the Tigers, pitching one and one/thirds innings and allowing just one hit. Starter Levale Speigner had a solid first outing. Pitching four complete innings, he allowed three runs on six hits while striking out five. Arnold Hughey also saw action in the game, allowing just two hits and no runs in three and two/thirds innings.

True freshman Josh Bell led the way for the Tigers at the plate, going 2-3 with two doubles. Auburn had just seven hits on the day with Gamble driving home four of the five Tiger runs in the game.

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Marshall got the loss for the Rams, giving up three runs on two hits in two innings of work. Twin brother Sean Marshall was the starter for VCU and was superb, allowing just four hits and two runs in five and one/third innings of work. Reliever Cla Meredith gave up one hit in just over an inning of work. Eric Latura led the Rams at the plate with three of VCU's nine hits in the game.

For much of the game the Rams dominated play as they took the lead in the fifth inning and led until the bitter end. Trailing 3-1, Auburn wasted a golden opportunity to tie the game in the bottom of the seventh inning. Bell walked to start things and moved into scoring position on a sacrifice bunt by Hulett. With a right-hander on the mound, Renfroe went to the bench with Kyle Baum due to bat and brought in junior college transfer Karl Ammonite. Not wasting any time, he drilled the first pitch he saw into center field. The only problem was Bell wasn't sure if Latura was going to catch the ball or not and he broke back towards second base. By the time he realized the ball was going to fall it was too late and he remained at second with just one out.

The base running mistake would prove costly as Jeroloman hit what would have been an easy sacrifice fly to center field just moments later only to have Latura wrap it up for the second out of the inning. Gamble grounded out harmlessly to second base to end the inning and the Auburn threat.

The Rams stretched their lead to 4-2 in the top of the eighth inning and could have broken the game open if not for the play of Gamble in the field. With two outs and nobody on base, Jose Pabon singled to left field. Designated hitter Gabe Riley then hit a slow grounder to Scott Schade at third base, but the junior sailed his throw into the first base stands to put runners on second and third with two outs.

Catcher Jeff Parrish then singled to left field to score Pabon from third. Coming up with the ball cleanly, Gamble gunned down Riley at the plate to keep the lead to just two. That run proved to be the winning margin for the Tigers as they got the 2003 season off to a good start.

"It's always huge to start off your season on the right foot," Jeroloman said. "We did that tonight. It could have been a lot prettier than it was. They could have been on top, but we fought it off and wound up in the win column."

The Tigers get back to action Saturday at 1 p.m. when they face the Rams for the second of the three-game set. Junior Eric Brandon will take the mound for Auburn against Justin Orenduff for VCU. Brandon was 3-3 last season with a 5.27 ERA while Orenduff was 10-2 with a 1.68 earned run average.

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