Auburn will be going for its first sweep in SEC play since 2003 when the Tigers (13-5) take on the Bulldogs (8-11) Sunday at noon central time at Foley Field.
After Friday's 22-hit, 20-run performance, Auburn coach John Pawlowski knew that Saturday's game would be a different one for his team and it was as the Tigers had just nine hits in the game, but on the mound the Tigers again came through with a clutch performance in a road win.
Starter Cole Nelson earned his fourth win of the year as he allowed two runs on four hits in five and one/thirds innings. He was backed up by Hubbard in a big way as the closer did yeoman's work on Saturday as he faced 15 batters, allowing just one run on three hits, to earn his second save of the year.
"I told our guys it was going to be a totally different ballgame and it was," Pawlowski said. "I thought Cole Nelson did a good job. He did what we ask our starters to do, go out there and give us a chance to build some momentum or find a way to get a lead. He kept us right in the ballgame. I thought that was very, very important.
"Then you look at the job that Austin Hubbard did," he added. "We talked about if we were in a situation where the game was on the line, the sixth inning on, and sure enough that situation came up. He pitched out of trouble there and did a great job to finish this thing off."
It was a different role for Hubbard as he is normally a true closer with an inning or just over that amount in his appearances. After struggles out of the bullpen this season Pawlowski decided before the weekend to use Hubbard in the middle innings if the situation presented itself. That was the case on Saturday and the Homewood native said he was ready for the challenge.
"That was really extended, but I was fine with it," Hubbard said. "They told me to start throwing in the sixth and I was kind of surprised, but I knew we were trying to get the series out of the way. I just wanted to make good pitches and stay down in the zone and make good pitches. I really wanted to make them hit my pitches. Jenks (Jenkins) was doing a great job back there behind the plate blocking the ball. I was just trying to stay with my plan and keep the ball down and make them hit what I was throwing up there."
Auburn started things off right in the first inning as with one out Creede Simpson reached on an error by shortstop Todd Hankins and quickly stole second to put himself into scoring position for Hunter Morris. Morris came through with a single to left off Georgia starter Justin Grimm, but the ball was hit too hard leaving Simpson at third base. Following a Brian Fletcher strikeout, Morris stole second base to move into scoring position, but it took a wild pitch from Grimm for the Tigers to get on the board though as Simpson scored on the play for a 1-0 lead.
The Tigers looked like they would break things open in the top of the third inning Jenkins, Justin Hargett and Simpson all reached on singles, the last of the infield variety, to load the bases with nobody out and the heart of the Auburn order coming to the plate. A power pitcher with a hard slider, Grimm went to work on the mound as he proceeded to strike out Morris and Fletcher before getting McElroy to ground out to end the inning and the Auburn threat.
On the mound Nelson escaped trouble in the second as he got a double play to end the inning. Again in the third the Bulldogs got to the big junior as a two-out single to left by Jonathan Taylor put the speedster on first base with big powerful Peter Verdin at the plate. Paying attention to Taylor, Nelson hit Verdin with the first pitch to put a runner in scoring position with two outs for big first baseman Robert Shipman. Nelson wasn't fazed though as he recovered to strike out the big guy to end the inning and keep Auburn in front.
Ryan Jenkins had a big home run for the Tigers on offense and did a great job behind the plate as well.
Threatening in the third, Auburn would add to its lead in the fourth with the bottom of the order doing the damage. With one out Dan Gamache singled up the middle, but a pop up by Justin Bryant brought number nine hitter Ryan Jenkins to the plate with two outs. Getting a hanging breaking ball, the senior tomahawked it over the wall in left field for his first home run this season and the third of his career.
"The first pitch I check-swung at a breaking ball down in the dirt," Jenkins said. "It started at my knees so I knew it would have some depth to it. The next pitch he threw the same pitch but it was a hanger. It didn't do as much. I stayed on top of it and drove it out of the ballpark."
The lead would move to four in the sixth as Tony Caldwell led off with a single and moved to second on a stolen base. Following a groundout to first that moved Caldwell to third, Bryant squeezed the run home with a perfect bunt out in front of the plate to make it a four-run lead.
Georgia responded in the bottom of the sixth as Taylor worked a leadoff walk from Nelson and then moved to third on a hit and run single by Verdin. A Shipman ground ball to Hargett at second pushed across the first run for the Bulldogs and brought Nelson's day to a close as Zach Blatt came on in relief. It looked to be a good move as he struck out the first batter he faced, but a hit batter and a single on a 0-2 pitch cut the Auburn lead to 4-2 and sent Pawlowski to the pen for Hubbard.
The closer got out of the sixth with no more damage as he struck out DH Zach Taylor on three pitches, but he wouldn't be as fortunate in the seventh. Hankins started the Bulldog rally with a single and advanced to third on a single to center field. Simpson came up throwing in center to try to get the runner at third, allowing the hitter Zach Cone to move to second. Hubbard responded though as he struck out both Taylor and Verdin, but a walk to Shipman would load the bases for Taylor. Trying to nibble, Hubbard walked in a run to make the score 4-3. A groundout brought the threat to a close with Auburn clinging to a one-run advantage. That's how things would stay into the ninth as Bryant singled for the Tigers and moved to third base with just one out, but a Hargett strikeout and Simpson groundout ended the inning.
That set the stage for the bottom of the ninth as Hubbard got two quick outs before a Verdin double gave the Bulldogs some life and kept the capacity crowd on its feet. Finishing the game off in style, Hubbard struck out Shipman for a career-high sixth strikeout to end the game.
At the plate Jenkins and Caldwell had two hits each for the Tigers while Verdin, May, and Hankins all had two hits for Georgia in the loss.
Sunday Auburn will be looking for the sweep with junior Grant Dayton (1-1, 7.47 ERA) getting the start against Jeff Walters (0-1, 8.83) for Georgia.