Late VCU Rally Sinks Baseball Tigers

Auburn, Ala.--Virginia Commonwealth repaid Auburn Saturday for the previous night's heroics as the Rams scored four runs in the top of the eighth inning to overcome a one-run deficit on the way to a 5-2 victory on a cold day at Plainsman Park.

The comeback spoiled a strong outing by Tiger starter Eric Brandon, who allowed just one run and five hits in five and two/thirds innings while striking out eight Ram hitters. The difference in this game was the VCU pitching staff. Dominating the Tigers for much of the game, VCU kept Auburn from breaking the game open and allowed its offense to win the game late.

"We knew this guy was pretty good," Auburn Coach Steve Renfroe said of VCU starter Justin Orenduff. "The two relievers we saw last night were pretty good as well...We had the lead and went to our closer and they hit him around and then it changed. We thought it would be a low-scoring game. You have to tip your hat. They did a great job and stopped us. We had chances, but they made pitches to get us out with some pretty good hitters up there. They just outplayed us and at game time they outplayed us."

Auburn missed a golden opportunity to break open the game in the bottom of the fifth leading with the score at 1-1. Scott Schade led off the inning with a double to right field, but a strikeout by Chuck Jeroloman and a Sean Gamble pop out seemed to put a damper on the spark provided by Schade.

True freshman Josh Bell continues to play well early in the 2003 season. Here he leads off first base after ripping a ground ball off the VCU third baseman.

Javon Moran gave the rally some life when he dropped a single into right field to score Schade. Clete Thomas followed with an infield single to put runners on first and second with two outs. Senior catcher Bobby Huddleston couldn't capitalize on the opportunity though as he grounded out to the second baseman to end the inning with Auburn ahead just 2-1.

That would prove to be costly for the Tigers as they held on to the slim lead until the eighth inning thanks to solid relief by Andrew Skinner and Cory Dueitt. Following Brandon in the game, they didn't allow a hit and walked one. Their pitching set the stage for Auburn closer Steven Register. Dominant in his intra-squad outings all spring, the sophomore didn't have the touch on Saturday.

Leadoff man Eric Latura started things off with a single up the middle. That would be the beginning of a six-hit inning for the Rams, five of which came off Register. Getting ahead of every batter in the inning, Register gave up four hits with two strikes. Before the damage was done the Rams had taken a commanding three-run lead. Relievers Clay Meredith and Brian Marshall closed the door on the Tigers to give the Rams the victory and even the series at one game each.

Early on Auburn was in good shape thanks to the work of Brandon. Showing good control and command of his pitches, the junior kept the Rams off-balance for his entire outing. After giving up his only run in the top of the second, Brandon's teammates picked him up in the bottom half as junior college transfer Karl Ammonite hit a line drive to right field that just cleared the wall for his first home run of the season.

"I felt pretty good out there," Brandon said following the game. "I actually had three pitches today. Last year I only had the fastball and slider, but today I threw fastball, curve and change-up all for strikes. I located good as well. I thought I threw pretty well today."

The Tigers and Rams play the rubber match of the series at 1:30 p.m. Sunday as junior Colby Paxton takes the mound for Auburn against senior Michael Leishman for VCU. Paxton was 8-6 last season with a 5.25 ERA while Leishman finished the year 3-3 with a 4.17 earned run average.

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