Tigers even series Auburn - win 5-3

AUBURN, Ala. - For seven innings Auburn starter Arnold Hughey was outstanding and the Tigers had the lead, but two swings from LSU changed all that as the Fighting Tigers came back from a one-run deficit to defeat Auburn 5-3 Saturday afternoon at Plainsman Park to even the series between the two teams.

Clay Harris' solo home run in the eighth inning and Ivan Naccarata's pinch-hit two-run home run in the ninth were the difference in the game as LSU improves it's record to 23-5 on the season and 5-3 in the SEC while Auburn falls to 21-8, 4-4 in the league.

LSU starter Clay Dirks was dominant in his first SEC start, giving up just five hits and three walks in a complete game effort. Dirks threw 120 pitches and only allowed six Auburn baserunners the entire game. Hughey was almost as good, giving up three runs on seven hits in eight innings while striking out four. Reliever Cory Dueitt came on in relief in the ninth and gave up Naccarata's two-run shot. Auburn Coach Steve Renfroe said this was a tough one to lose after battling tooth and nail for the second straight day.

"They are all big and certainly you would like to hang on and win a series on Saturday, but that's kind of what the SEC is about," Renfroe said. "My kids fought hard and it's one of those when your closer (Steven Register) is shut down for the day it changes things. You're just trying to get the best match-up you can. We felt very good. Cory has thrown very well. He has a good sinker, but he got one up and the kid hit it."

With the game tied at three heading to the top of the ninth inning, Renfroe had a tough decision to make. Having thrown 101 pitches through eight innings, Hughey had reached the limit for the day and a call to the bullpen was needed. Deciding to go with the experience in Dueitt was a no-brainer for Renfroe and his staff, but the move didn't work as expected. Jon Zeringue singled to open the inning and one out later Naccarata came to the plate looking for some revenge on Auburn after struggling in Friday's game.

A starter for LSU against right-handed pitching, Naccarata also pinch-hit last night against Auburn and struck out with the bases loaded. That wasn't the case on Saturday as he took the first pitch he saw from Dueitt deep into the LSU bullpen for a two-run home run. Leading 5-3 Dirks closed Auburn out in the ninth inning to improve his record to 6-0 on the season.

"He's a good pitcher," Auburn's Tug Hulett said. "He works it in-and-out and mixes it up. He's not afraid to double up on a curveball or a fastball and pitch backwards a little bit. Give the credit to him. He just said ‘here it is, hit it' and he let his defense do a lot of the work. They played good today."

Both Hughey and Dirks were dominant early as both teams were held scoreless until LSU finally got on the board in the fourth. With one out Matt Liuzza singled to center field and Harris doubled to left field to put the runners in motion. Clete Thomas had some problems with the ball in center field and that allowed Liuzza to score and Harris to reach third. That proved to be big as Nick Stavinoha flew out to Thomas in center to score Harris from third and make it 2-0 LSU.

Auburn answered back with a run in the bottom of the inning when Sean Gamble doubled to right field to open the inning. Playing perfect station-to-station baseball, Chuck Jeroloman followed with a ground ball to second and Thomas did the same, scoring Gamble from third with Auburn's first run of the game.

Auburn used the long ball to even the score in the bottom of the sixth inning and it came from Jeroloman. With two outs and nobody on the shortstop strode to the plate looking for a pitch to drive and he got it from the freshman Dirks. Ahead 1-0 in the count Jeroloman jumped on a fastball and lifted it high and deep over the monster in left field for his fourth home run of the season. With the game now tied at two Hughey went back to work on keeping LSU off the board.

That was the case in the seventh as Hughey had his second-straight seven pitch inning to retire LSU in order and bring his club back to the plate looking for the lead. The Louisiana native Hulett got things going for Auburn to lead off the inning as he doubled off the base of the left field wall to bring Josh Sullivan to the plate. The catcher drilled a liner to left that was caught by Ryan Patterson, but Auburn was beginning to measure Dirks and Derek Sain showed that with a double of his own to right-center that scored Hulett to give Auburn the 3-2 lead going to the eighth.

Just like he did in Friday night's game, Harris proved to be a thorn in Auburn's side. With two outs and nobody on the big third baseman ripped a 1-1 pitch from Hughey over the wall in left field for his second home run and fourth of the series. The blow tied the game and gave LSU the momentum they needed to get the win in the ninth.

Auburn will send Josh Bell to the mound on Sunday looking to earn the series win against LSU. The Fighting Tigers will counter with right-hander Nate Bumstead. Sunday's game can be seen live on Comcast Sports Southeast and is scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m.

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