Auburn now needs just one more win to claim at least a share of the title and the second overall seed in next week's SEC Tournament in Hoover.
For a while it looked like things were not going to work out as the Tigers led 1-0 following a Dan Gamache solo home run all the way until the sixth before starter Cory Luckie gave up a three-run homer. With Rebels' standout pitcher Drew Pomeranz in control things looked bleak, but Auburn kept battling and found a way to win with the late rally.
Auburn coach John Pawlowski said his team showed a lot of heart in the victory.
"We talked about it before the game that nothing really surprises me with our club," Pawlowski said. "They've been around, they've been through this league and worked so hard. I told them sooner or later success was going to come their way if they keep working hard. These guys believe in what they're doing and the experience certainly showed tonight."
That experience shined through in the forms of Patterson and Hubbard late. Hitting just .255 as a freshman and .231 as a sophomore with 11 total home runs in 291 at-bats, Patterson has become a terror for the Tigers this year. Coming to the plate with two runners on and two outs in the eighth, the Birmingham native was hitting .340 with 14 home runs and 24 RBI in just 94 at-bats.
With the game on the line Pawlowski turned to the big left-hander to face the Ole Miss right-handed closer. He delivered with a towering home run just inside the foul pole down the right field line. The blast put Auburn ahead and just may have been the defining moment of the season for this Tiger team.
"Pomeranz was throwing well, but I'm usually the guy against righties," Patterson said. "I saw they were getting right-handers up in the bullpen and I figured I was going to get my shot. Luckily guys were on base and luckily he hung an off-speed pitch. I figured I was going to see some funk and luckily it was up in my letters and I got hold of it. It was fun."
The home run put the Tigers up two and signaled a quick start for Hubbard in the bullpen. With Auburn down he was just watching the game, but the blast quickly got him moving as he was forced into the fray soon after.
"We were all sitting out there," Hubbard said. "I wasn't even throwing. I was thinking ‘If he happens to hit a home run here, I might have to start throwing.' He hits a bomb. I get up and have to throw. They tell me I'm in. I threw like 15 throws before I went in. That was the first time I've done that in two years. But that was awesome. It sailed right over our heads, about 500 feet."
Hubbard finishes off the Rebels in the ninth as he struck out three in just two innings.
Despite the quick warm-up, Hubbard sailed through the eighth before running into some trouble in the ninth. A one-out walk followed by a single quickly put the Rebels in scoring mode. He got down 3-1 on the next batter, but the senior didn't show any concern as he came back to strike him out before getting Tim Ferguson on a slider to end the game and earn his ninth save of the year.
"It's a dominating slider," Pawlowski said. "He just has so much confidence in that pitch. It's a dominating slider. He's the guy we want out there in that situation. Certainly he found a way to close the door."
Facing a dominating pitcher like Pomeranz, Auburn was hoping to scratch something early to get some positive momentum on Thursday night and despite singles by Trent Mummey in the first and Tony Caldwell in the second the Tigers failed to score early. One swing in the top of the third inning changed all that. Getting a fastball to lead off, Gamache launched it over the wall and into the Ole Miss bullpen for his sixth home run of the season. The blast gave Auburn a 1-0 lead with Luckie looking to keep the Rebels scoreless.
The sophomore faced his first trouble of the night in the bottom of the third as second baseman Alex Yarbrough singled. A fielder's choice erased him at second, but allowed first baseman Mike Snyder to reach first. A Matt Hamblin single followed to put runners on first and second with one out and Ferguson at the plate. Pitching carefully to the dangerous hitter, Luckie walked him to load the bases for second baseman Kevin Mort. It proved to be a good move as Mort hit into an inning-ending 6-3 double play to keep the Tigers in front 1-0.
Luckie got a double play to get him out of a jam in the fourth and the Rebels again threatened in the sixth inning. A one-out walk to Matt Smith and a Matt Snyder single brought third baseman Zach Miller to the plate with a chance to put the Rebels on the board. He got a good swing on a pitch away, but his fly ball to right field was run down by Justin Fradejas on the warning track in right field for out number two. Smith tagged on the play and went to third base, bringing Taylor Hashman to the plate.
A strikeout victim his first two times at the plate, Hashman got a pitch to drive and didn't miss it as he launched a liner just over the wall in left field. The three-run shot was his eighth of the season and put Ole Miss ahead 3-1.
Luckie pitched well, allowing just the three runs on seven hits in six innings.
Brian Fletcher's single to left field to open the sixth was Auburn's fifth hit of the season and gave the Tigers some life. Already with a single on the night, Hunter Morris popped up to the shortstop for out number one to bring Caldwell to the plate. Fisting one to right field, Caldwell delivered his second single of the night. Fletcher moved to third on the hit to bring shortstop Casey McElroy to the plate. After having a great at-bat his first time up, McElroy got a pitch to drive the other way and dropped it into left-center for a single. The hit scored Fletcher and moved Caldwell to third base.
Now trailing 3-2 with runners on the corners and still just one out, catcher Ryan Jenkins strolled to the plate hoping to tie it or give the Tigers the lead. Pomeranz never came close to throwing a strike in four pitches to walk Jenkins and load the bases for Gamache. Bearing down, the All-American struck out the Auburn sophomore looking on an outside pitch for out number two to bring Justin Hargett to the plate. Showing his mettle, Pomeranz struck out Hargett as well to leave the bases loaded with Auburn still down one.
Looking for its first win of the season when trailing after seven innings, Auburn got a leadoff walk to Fradejas to bring Mummey to the plate in what appeared to be a bunt situation in the top of the eighth. Squaring around, Mummey saw a racing Miller at third base and instead swung away. His chopper to the shortstop was just slow enough to allow both runners to reach and bring Fletcher to the plate.
That all for Pomeranz as Huber came in to face the Auburn junior left fielder. Hitting the ball hard, Fletcher lined a fly ball right at Ferguson in center field for out number one. That brought Morris to the plate with just one out facing the right-hander. Huber got Morris on a groundout to first base for the second out, but both runners moved into scoring position. With the righty on the mound Auburn went with Patterson in a pinch-hit role instead of Caldwell. It proved to be the right move as his bomb proved to be the difference in Auburn's win on Thursday night.
"I told the guys enjoy this for a few minutes and think about what we did and the things we did well to come back," Pawlowski said. "We have another game tomorrow. We have to be ready to play tomorrow."