Justin Fradejas had two hits, including his second home run of the season, and scored three runs as the Tigers hit three homers and improve to 41-19 on the season.
On a night when the Tigers were held without a base runner for the first three innings, Auburn got offense from a variety of places as Dan Gamache and Casey McElroy hit home runs in addition to Fradejas, but Auburn also added a bunt single, and infield single, and a key Fradejas sacrifice bunt on the way to the win. Coach John Pawlowski said with JSU starter Austin Lucas pitching well they had to find a way to manufacture some offense.
"One of the things we talked about going into the season was finding different ways to score runs," Pawlowski said. "Although we did hit some home runs today, which was great because they certainly saved us, but if you really break the game down it came down to some short things too, some little things.
"(Justin) Hargett put down a punt and Justin (Fradejas) put down a sacrifice that forced a little action on their pitcher. We got some momentum going that inning. I thought we did a really good job with the short game."
On the mound the Tigers only got four and two/thirds innings from starter Cory Luckie as he allowed four runs on six hits. Reliever Slade Smith picked up the win to improve to 4-0 as he allowed one earned run on five hits in two and one/third innings. Austin Hubbard got his 10th save of the season, allowing a run on two hits in two innings.
Austin Hubbard gets the game ball from catcher Ryan Jenkins after the win.
Auburn's struggles in the first inning continued on Friday night as Jacksonville State didn't wasted any time putting the pressure on Luckie and the Tigers. With one out Bert Smith singled through the left side and a walk to Steven Leach brought Andrew Edge to the plate with a chance to put the Gamecocks on the board. A balk moved the runners to second and third where Edge would put JSU up with a single to left field. Another walk loaded the bases, but Luckie would escape further damage as he struck out Jake Sharrock to end the inning.
Trailing 1-0 after three hitless innings, the Tigers were looking for something to get them going on offense and that proved to be the short game. Leading off, right fielder Justin Fradejas put down a perfect bunt single to bring Trent Mummey to the plate. Back after missing much of the SEC Tournament because of a strained hamstring, Mummey launched a line drive off the base of the wall in left-center for a double. The hit easily scored Fradejas to tie the game and start a potential rally for the Tigers.
A walk to Brian Fletcher and one out later another walk, this one to Kevin Patterson, brought third baseman Dan Gamache to the plate with the bases loaded and a chance to put the Tigers in the lead. Falling behind 0-2 in the count, Gamache worked it back to 2-2 before launching a fly ball deep to center field. Tracking back on the play, JSU center fielder Daniel Adamson reached up and pulled the ball back in the field for out number two and robbing Gamache of a grand slam. Mummey tagged up and scored on the play though to give Auburn its first lead of the game.
Ryan Jenkins followed that with a single to left field to score Fletcher from second base for a 3-1 Auburn lead. The ball bounced away from Edge at the plate and Patterson attempted to make it to third base, but was thrown out to end the inning. Still Auburn finally managed to get the offense untracked and led 3-1 going to the fifth.
"We were struggling in the first three innings and had to get something going there," Fradejas said of his bunt to start the rally. "I was looking to get on base and I got a good bunt down.
It only took two batters for the lead to be gone as number nine hitter Blake Seguin singled to left field to bring leadoff man Todd Cunningham to the plate. Getting something up in the zone, Cunningham blasted his 11th home run of the season over the wall in left field. That tied the game at three, but the Gamecocks weren't done. Smith followed with his second hit of the game, a single to right field, to bring Leach to the plate.
Hitting a ground ball to second base, Leach was called out as part of a double play due to interference by Smith at the bag at second for failing to slide. It proved to be a big play as Edge followed with a ground-rule double to right field for JSU's sixth hit of the game. With Smith in the game in relief of Luckie, Kyle Bluestein made the Tigers pay with a single through the left side to score Edge and put the Gamecocks back in front 4-3.
Auburn would answer back via the long ball in the bottom of the fifth from the unlikeliest of places. A one out walk to Justin Hargett brought Fradejas to the plate. Homering in the first game of the season, the junior had gone without a homer in his next 49 games before stepping to the plate against Lucas. Jumping on the first pitch, Fradejas launched it over the monster in left field for a two-run shot. The blast gave Auburn a 5-4 lead with Smith trying to hold down the Gamecocks in the sixth.
Just like this game had gone from the start Jacksonville state answered back as number nine hitter Seguin doubled with one out in the sixth and advanced to third on a Fradejas error. It was a big play as Auburn moved the infield in and Cunningham chopped a single just over Gamache's head at third base to score the run and tie the game once again. Smith recovered to get out of the inning with the score 5-5 going to the bottom of the sixth.
The long ball was again well and alive for Auburn as with one out Gamache got a pitch out over the plate and lifted a fly ball just over the wall in left field for his eighth home run of the season. The solo shot put Auburn back in front 6-5. Smith allowed a single in the seventh, but that was all as the Tigers came back to the plate looking to add to the lead against reliever Alex Jones.
"Coming back to win that game was a great confidence booster," Gamache said. "We were able to collect some big hits and pull out this victory."
Dan Gamache is congratulated by Link Jarrett after his homer in the sixth inning.
Playing small ball once again, Hargett punt down a perfect drag bunt and dove headfirst into first base for a single. Attempting to move the runners over, Fradejas bunted towards first base and Jones caught the ball and threw it away down the first base line. The error put runners on second and third with the heart of the order coming to the plate. Getting Mummey on a ground ball to second for the first out, Jones turned things over to Todd Hornsby to try to keep the Tigers off the board.
Facing Fletcher, the second sidewinder of the night for the Gamecocks did his job as he got Fletcher on a groundout to Smith at second base. Off and running on the play, Hargett scored from third to give Auburn a 7-5 lead. An intentional walk to Hunter Morris put runners on the corners for Tony Caldwell. In for Patterson, Caldwell hit a ground ball that Sharrock grabbed on a dive at short and threw to second. The throw wasn't in time though as Morris beat the throw to second allowing Fradejas to score for the 8-5 Auburn lead. Gamache then hit a liner that hit foul off the top of the wall in left field just a few feet from another home run. His groundout brought the inning to an end with Smith working with a three-run advantage.
That lasted no time as the Gamecocks refused to go away. A leadoff walk brought Smith's day to a close with Hubbard coming on in relief. He quickly gave up a pair of singles that scored a run and left runners on first and third with nobody out. A Smith groundout to Hargett at second scored run number two to make it 8-7 with the tying run on second base. A groundout moved the runner to third base with two outs and Edge at the plate. Bearing down with the slider, Hubbard got the strikeout to end the inning with the Tigers holding a slim one-run lead.
In the bottom of the eighth Auburn got a huge insurance run on a McElroy solo shot to left-center. Hubbard then finished things off with a perfect ninth inning to seal with victory.
"It was a very tough, back and forth game," Hubbard said. "Whenever one team would score, the other would score. We need to work on getting shut-down innings tomorrow."
Auburn will face Clemson, a 10-1 winner over Southern Miss, at 6 p.m. on Saturday with Jacksonville State facing off against the Golden Eagles at 2 p.m.