"I thought that was a real exciting and outstanding college baseball game," Auburn's John Pawlowski said. "You had two teams going at it toe-to-toe. One pitch and one play could certainly mean the difference in the ballgame. It just seemed like offensively we couldn't get anything going and then Trent Mummey comes up with a big two-strike base hit. I look at the job our pitchers did today. Grant Dayton and Austin Hubbard, just a tremendous, tremendous outing in a tough, hard-nosed ballgame."
Facing one of the league's top pitchers in South Carolina starter Blake Cooper, who was 10-1 on the season, Auburn knew that it would need everything out of its pitching staff and Dayton and Hubbard delivered. Allowing just one run on five hits in seven and one/third innings, Dayton dueled Cooper at every turn on Thursday.
Hubbard was equally as good as he pitched four and two/thirds innings, allowing just two hits. He struck out five while walking three to pick up his five win of the season against only two defeats. In a game where one pitch meant so much, Hubbard and Dayton said it was just fun to come out on the winning end of a pitcher's duel.
"It was his (Dayton's) duel," Hubbard said. "He and Cooper went after it for six or seven innings. They threw a heck of a game. Those games aren't the most fun to watch I guess, but from the dugout it's pretty fun to pitch like that. Being from here (Homewood) makes it awesome. We're just excited that we get to sleep in tomorrow and play tomorrow.
"That was a lot of fun," Dayton added. "I was able to go out there and pitch like I know I can. I was able to use my fastball and everything went good. It was a lot of fun to be a part of that. When I came out watching Hub come in and fill up the strike zone, everything was good. We were able to stay in the ballgame long enough to put some runs on the board and win."
With the only runs in the game coming on solo home runs from Auburn's Creede Simpson and South Carolina's Brady Thomas, the game was one of missed opportunities until the Tigers finally cashed in for two runs in the 12th to put the game away. The inning started fittingly enough with senior Ryan Jenkins hitting a flare down the right field line for a single, but he was erased when Casey McElroy's sacrifice bunt failed to move him into scoring position. That set the stage for perhaps the play of the game.
On Wednesday Auburn second baseman Justin Hargett made an error that eventually allowed a run to score and break the Tigers' momentum against Alabama. This time around it was Hargett on the receiving end as his smash to second base was mishandled by Scott Wingo, putting runners on first and second with one out for Justin Fradejas. Working the count against reliever Matt Price, Fradejas earned a walk to load the bases and bring Mummey to the plate.
Also getting ahead in the count, Mummey eventually wound up 3-2 before getting a pitch to hit and lacing it into center field for a single. The hit scored two runs to put Auburn up 3-1 and finally break things open for the Tigers.
"That inning he was throwing a lot of balls and leaving a lot of fastballs up and couldn't locate his slider," Mummey said. "We got the bases loaded and he couldn't locate his slider against me and was leaving his fastball up. With it 3-2 I knew he had to give me something to hit with the bases loaded. I was looking to stay on top of the ball. He threw me a fastball and I was able to stay on top and hit it up the middle."
Trent Mummey is mobbed by his teammates after the two-run single.
The Tigers tried to get on the board early against Cooper as Brian Fletcher was hit by a pitch with two outs and Hunter Morris followed with a single, but Kevin Patterson's deep fly ball to left field wasn't quite deep enough and the inning ended with Auburn leaving two on base. South Carolina threatened as well in the bottom of the third with a one-out double from Jackie Bradley Jr. and a walk to Christian Walker giving the Gamecocks some life, but Dayton recovered to get out of the jam and leave the game scoreless.
Auburn finally broke the scoreless drought in the top of the fourth inning thanks to Simpson. A replacement for Fletcher after the left fielder was hit in the hand by a pitch and suffered some bruising and soreness, Simpson got a fastball and drove it out of the park in left field for his fifth homer of the year. The solo shot was the first for the Tigers in the SEC Tournament and gave Dayton a 1-0 lead to work with.
Dayton made it stand up in dominating fashion until the bottom of the seventh inning when catcher Brady Thomas mashed the first pitch he saw from the Auburn lefty over the right field wall. Thomas' eighth home run of the season and second career in the SEC Tournament tied the game at one. It was just the fourth hit of the game for South Carolina and the first run in 16+ innings for the Gamecocks in Hoover this year.
Bradley continued to be a thorn in the side of Auburn as he led off the eighth with a bloop single to left field, his second hit of the game. Following a sacrifice bunt the Tigers went to the bullpen for Hubbard to try to keep the Gamecocks off the board. With Hubbard coming in South Carolina made a switch as well for Jeffrey Jones instead of the right-hander Parker Bangs.
Dayton had another strong outing for the Tigers.
Getting Jones on a liner to Morris at first base, Hubbard almost got a double play to get out of the inning as Morris' throw to McElroy at short was almost in time to double up Bradley. Getting ahead 0-2 on Adrian Morales, Hubbard bounced a pitch in the dirt that allowed the runner to move to third, but the senior came through with a strikeout to end the inning.
That's how things would stay into the 10th inning as Hubbard walked the speedy Merrifield with one out. Bradley Jr. followed with a sharp single off Hubbard's glove to put runners on first and second. The deflection likely kept the Gamecocks from a first and third situation and brought Walker to the plate.
Hitting a slow chopper to the right side, Walker was retired but he did move the runners into scoring position with two outs. With the lefty Jones at the plate the Tigers decided to walk him and face Morales. It paid off as Morales hit a ball right back in front of the mound that Hubbard fielded and threw to first for the final out.
Both teams would get runners in the 11th but nothing across, setting the stage for the dramatic extra-inning victory for the Tigers. Auburn now waits for the loser of tonight's game between Alabama and Ole Miss with the Friday game scheduled for 3 p.m. with either Cole Nelson or Slade Smith the likely starter for the Tigers. On the injury front Mummey suffered some cramping in the 12th, but he'll be evaluated the rest of the day. Fletcher has a bruised hand after x-rays came back negative. He's listed as day to day.