Auburn, Ala.--Michael O'Neal pitched six shutout innings and Ryan Tella's inside-the-park home run lifted the Auburn to a 5-1 win over the College of Charleston Saturday afternoon in rain-hampered round-robin tournament at Plainsman Park.
The Tigers bounced back from their first loss of the season, a 2-1 setback earlier Saturday to Middle Tennessee State. The 5-1 Tigers will host Indiana State at 2 p.m. Sunday to close out their weekend action. Middle Tennessee State and the College of Charleston will play at 10 a.m. Sunday prior to the Auburn-Indiana State contest.
A Chattahoochee Valley Community College transfer, the 6-1, 224-pound lefty junior O'Neal is the only Auburn starter with a win this season after improving to 2-0. He allowed four hits in six innings while walking one and striking out four. Sophomore Trey Cochran-Gill worked three innings in relief of O'Neal to pick up his first save of the season. Gill was a little shaky in the ninth when he hit a batter to lead off the frame. A passed ball, wild pitch and ground out led to the only Cougar run in the win.
After managing three hits in its loss earlier in the day to Middle Tennessee State, Auburn pounded out 11 hits against three Cougar pitchers. Tella paced the attack with three hits, including his home run. Damek Tomscha added two hits and scored twice, as did Tella.
It was a satisfying win for Auburn Head Coach John Pawlowski who headed the College of Charleston program for nine years before coming to Auburn five years ago.
"They are a very good team, so it was a big win after the way we lost the first game today (to Middle Tennessee State)," Pawlowski said. "Every game is important, but we were at an early-season crossroads in the second game."
Pawlowski was referring to the Tigers' poor performance that resulted in their first loss when they had only three hits and one run against Middle Tennessee State. He said Tella's inside-the-park home run was difference maker that jump-started the Tigers against the Cougars. Two runs came home on Tella's controversial inside-the-park homer in the third inning that also scored Dan Glevenyak who had singled.
Tella lined past third base just inside the line. The ball went all the way to the corner by the Green Monster. The Cougar leftfielder tried to dig the ball out from under a bench without signaling for a dead ball by raising his hands. Instead of waiting to see if he was going to be held at second base because of where the ball ended up, Tella kept running all the way around the bases.
"He turned the game around with his hustle and running the ball out," Pawlowski pointed out. Tella said he saw the leftfielder reach under the bench and then reaching again.
"Coach (Gabe) Gross kept waving me around third," Tella said. "That gave us momentum and we added another run to go up 3-0. We didn't hit the ball well in the first game. We got back to our right approaches at the plate in the second game."
Auburn was very effective on the mound in both games, allowing only seven hits and one earned run in 18 innings.
Pawlowski praised the efforts of O'Neal and reliever Cochran-Gill in the win over the College of Charleston. "O'Neal filled up the strike zone and Cochran-Gill did well in relief," Pawlowski commented.
The Tigers scored three runs after two outs in the third inning off Cougar starter Jake Zokan to take the lead. Tella's blow was Auburn's first inside-the-park homer since Trent Mummy accomplished that at FSU in 2009. The last inside-the-park homer at home for the Tigers was by Jeff Boutwell in 2007 against the Florida Gators.
Auburn added its third run of the inning when Tomscha went to second on a throwing error by the third baseman that bounced away from the first baseman into the dugout. Tomscha scored on Garrett Cooper's single.
The Tigers added a single run in the fifth and chased Zokan in the process. The run was unearned after a two-out error by the shortstop allowed Tomscha, who had singled, to make it to second on a grounder by Cooper. Cullen Waker then singled Tomscha home.
Auburn went up 5-0 in the bottom of the seventh. Tella had an infield single and eventually scored on a double-play ball off the bat of Cooper, who wasn't credited with an RBI on the play.
That was plenty of support for O'Neal who escaped a first-inning jam after allowing two singles to put runners at first and third with two outs. He got catcher Ryan Welke looking on a third strike. O'Neal also got a strikeout swinging with one out and a runner at first before the second single of the inning put Cougars on the corners.
O'Neal continued his strikeout streak in the second by punching out the first two Cougar batters on called third strikes to give him three straight strikeouts and four in five hitters. A single by Ben Boykin ended the strikeout streak. O'Neal retired the side on a fly to the base of the monster in left field.
O'Neal said getting out of the first-inning jam with a couple of strikeouts was big. "They were hitting the ball hard," he said. "I worked my fast ball in and out to get the strikeouts and get out of the inning. Our defense was playing well and a double play helped along the way."
O'Neal allowed only two base runners from the second though the sixth inning. Cochran-Gill retired the side in the seventh and eighth innings before allowing the Cougars' only run in the ninth.
Zokan absorbed the loss for the Cougars to drop to 0-1. He worked 4 2/3 innings, allowing four runs (two earned) on seven hits. He walked one and struck out two.