Nothing Luckie About It, AU Blasts Bulldogs

Auburn pounded Georgia 20-3 to open the SEC baseball schedule in style in Athens.

Athens, Ga.--Auburn was hoping to get off to a good start in conference play Friday night and the Tigers got more than they bargained for as starting pitcher Cory Luckie allowed just two runs on five hits in seven innings and left fielder Justin Bryant had two home runs and eight RBI in a dominating 20-3 baseball win over the Georgia Bulldogs at Foley Field.

First baseman Hunter Morris also added two home runs with five RBI as the Tigers (12-5, 1-0) pounded out 22 hits on the way to the most runs for an Auburn team in a conference game since scoring 21 at Arkansas in 2001.

While the offense may get the headlines, a big story for Auburn was Luckie. In total command much of the game, the sophomore allowed solo home runs in the first and second innings, but that was it as he dominated the Bulldogs to pick up his first win. He said for him it was big to pitch deep into a game, but it was even more important for the team.

"It was very satisfying and very helpful to the team," Luckie said about his performance. "That's the one thing we've been lacking for the last year. It's really encouraging when you have a guy go seven innings and it doesn't hurt when your guys score 20 runs.

"I thought the difference for us to gain some momentum was Cory Luckie," Auburn coach John Pawlowski added. "He went out there and did a great job. He made a couple of mistakes early in the game, but he kept after it. He threw three pitches for strikes down in the zone and gave us a chance to win."

At the plate Bryant was one of many stars on the night for the Tigers as he was 4-6 with two home runs, a bases loaded double and eight total RBI. The RBI matched his season total for the year and he said it's all due to the work he put in before the game to try to get in a better position with his hands.

"I have been struggling lately at the plate so I came early today to try to work on getting my hands more inside," Bryant said. "I helped out in the end. I was seeing the ball good tonight, of course everybody else on the team was too. They were stroking it. We just had a good night all together."

Justin Bryant was one of several Tigers that had a big offensive night on Friday.

Things got off to a little bit of a rough start for Luckie in the first inning. After getting ground ball outs from the first two hitters of the night, he faced off against Georgia's leading power guy Peter Verdin looking for a perfect first inning. Pushing the count to full, Verdin fouled off several pitches before getting one he could handle. He deposited it deep to left field for his sixth home run to give Georgia the early lead.

The Tigers answered back in a big way in the top of the second inning as they figured out Palazzone's stuff pretty quickly. In the lineup but obviously less than full speed with a sore quad, designated hitter Brian Fletcher singled off the glove of shortstop Levi Hyams to get Auburn off and running. Auburn shortstop Casey McElroy followed with a single of his own to give the Tigers a pair of runners with nobody out.

Following a sacrifice bunt by Tony Caldwell to put the runners into scoring position, third baseman Dan Gamache continued his solid hitting to start the year as he singled up the middle to score both runners and put Auburn in front 2-1. Following a strikeout by Justin Bryant, Gamache stole second to move into scoring position for Ryan Jenkins. Drilling one to center field, Jenkins pushed Gamache across and just like that the Tigers had a 3-1 advantage.

One swing of the bat would cut the lead in half in the bottom of the second as again Luckie got the first two Georgia hitters with no problem bringing third baseman Colby May to the plate. The right-hander drove a pitch the opposite way for his third home run of the season. That brought the Bulldogs back to within one at 3-2, but Auburn would answer once again.

In the third Fletcher again led things off, this time with a walk, to bring McElroy to the plate. Another single put Caldwell in prime bunting position again, but a balk moved both runners into scoring position to allow Caldwell to swing away. The result was a sacrifice fly to center field and Auburn led 4-2. With reliever Chase Hawkins on, Gamache struck out to bring Bryant to the plate in a clutch situation. The junior college transfer got just enough of a ground ball to beat it to first and allow McElroy to score from third.

Now ahead 5-2, Luckie had his first easy inning in the bottom of the third and Auburn responded with another run in the fourth. A leadoff walk to Simpson and a double from Morris put the Tigers in great position to start the inning, but only one run would score on a McElroy sacrifice fly as Auburn spotted Luckie a 6-2 lead heading to bottom of the fourth.

Luckie put himself in trouble with a walk to first baseman Robert Shipman to open the fourth and designated hitter Brett DeLoach followed with a sharp single to center field to put a pair of Bulldogs on base with nobody out. Luckie responded though as he got a ground ball to Hargett at second base. The junior flipped to McElroy and he threw to first to complete the double play. Luckie finished things off with a strikeout of May to keep the momentum with the Tigers.

"Those two home runs in the first two innings, you've got to really be tough," Luckie said. "It's hard to give up home runs, but I kept battling. I knew it was going to be a tough night. Any SEC team is going to do that to you. I really had to cut down on my mistakes and I made it through seven innings."

Leading 6-2, Auburn exploded in the next two innings offensively to build a huge lead against the Bulldogs. Hargett was hit by a pitch to open the sixth and one out later he trotted home as Morris hit a bomb over the scoreboard in right field for his 28th career home run. Later in the inning back to back singles and a walk to Caldwell then set the table for some two-out magic by Bryant as he doubled to left to make it 11-2 Tigers.

In the seventh Auburn extended the lead even more thanks to another swing from Morris. Singles by Hargett and Simpson brought Morris to the plate facing reliever Malcolm Clapsaddle. Getting a high fastball, Morris launched it high into the Athens night for a three-run shot. The blast gave Auburn a commanding 14-2 lead with just three Bulldog at-bats remaining.

It was Auburn's offense and Bryant in particular that would finish this night with a bang though as he hit two-run home runs in both the eighth and ninth innings as part of six more runs for the Tigers. Georgia added a meaningless run in the ninth off reliever Michael Hurst to make the final score 20-3.

In addition to Bryant and Morris, McElroy also had four hits and scored three runs while Gamache added three hits and Hargett and Fletcher had two each.

On Saturday Auburn will look for win number two as junior Cole Nelson (3-0, 3.74 ERA) takes the mound for the Tigers against righty Justin Grimm (1-1, 5.40) for the Bulldogs. The game is scheduled for 2 p.m. CDT. In a change of times for Sunday the game will now be played at noon CDT because of expected impending weather.

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