Auburn Holds Off Gamecock Rally

Auburn put together one of its top offensive games of the season in Friday's win over South Carolina ...

Auburn, Ala.--This week Coach Steve Renfroe made the decision to move closer Steven Register to the starting rotation and for a while Friday night it looked like that might have to change as South Carolina scored five runs in the top of the ninth inning to cut into an eight-run Auburn lead. But Chris Dennis came on to record his first career save as the Tigers defeated South Carolina 12-9 in the opening game of the three-game series at Plainsman Park. The win improves Auburn to 30-17, 10-12 in SEC play, while the Gamecocks fall to 32-13, 11-11 in the league.

The Tigers pounded out 16 hits against USC pitching, a season high in league play for Auburn. Leading the way were Sean Gamble and Clete Thomas, who each had three hits. Gamble had three doubles and two runs batted in while Thomas had a career-high four RBI. Coach Steve Renfroe said the job that Dennis did to close the game for Auburn was a good sign for the team heading down the stretch in SEC play.

"We had to go to Dennis and I thought he threw well," Renfroe said. "All of the sudden one more baserunner and one swing and you see the home run numbers they have. For him to step in there his first time, that was neat to see. I think he can be a real good one."

Sean Gamble had three doubles in Friday night's game.

Despite South Carolina's late rally Auburn starter Josh Bell was another story on the night. The sophomore allowed just five hits and four runs in six and two/thirds innings to pick up his third win of the season. The loss went to South Carolina starter Aaron Rawl, who had his shortest career outing as a starter when he gave up nine runs on 10 hits in three innings Friday night. Renfroe said his offense had a good night and took advantage of some good bounces to grab the early lead.

"Things went our way early," Renfroe said. "We bounced some singles through and that's what you need against a good pitcher. We just got some through the hole and got the innings going and when the veterans came up we got a few big doubles. We got ahead and things got free and easy. We did a good job after that."

Keeping the offensive juices flowing after scoring some runs in Gainesville last weekend, Auburn got off to a good start in Friday's game with a big second inning to put Bell at ease. Hitting for himself, Bell walked to start the second and Gamble followed with a double into the right field corner to put runners on first and second with nobody out. Following a shallow fly-out by Ben Maitland for the first out of the inning, Mike Hyntka hit a slow ground ball to short that scored Bell to tie the game at one.

The Tigers then got aggressive as back-to-back singles by Derek Sain and J.T. Williamson on first pitches from Rawl scored two as Auburn moved in front 3-1. A walk to Tug Hulett brought Chuck Jeroloman up in a RBI chance and the sophomore delivered with a fly ball to right that scored Sain from third. Thomas drove across the final run of the inning with a sharp single to center that scored Williamson. Ahead 5-1 Bell was able to relax and let his defense work for him.

Auburn added to the lead in the third when Gamble led off the inning with a double to left center and scored one out later on a Hyntka single to left field. The fourth inning would bring still more offense for the Tigers from the middle of the order. Hulett led off with a walk and Jeroloman followed with a sharp single to left. Thomas then did some damage with a long triple off the base of the center field wall to score both runners with nobody out. Yet another double by Gamble scored Thomas and put an end to the Auburn threat with the Tigers leading 9-1.

Despite giving up some hard hit balls that were swallowed up by a good defensive effort, Bell had given up just three hits through six innings before the Gamecocks put an end to his day in the seventh. Ryan Mahoney walked to lead off the inning and one out later South Carolina had drawn to within six on a long home run to right field by Kevin Melillo. One out later Michael Campbell drilled a solo shot into the USC bullpen to end Bell's night leading 9-4. Dueitt came on to finish the inning and Auburn got one back in the seventh.

Maitland led off the inning with a single for his second hit of the night, but it looked like he would be stranded as both Hyntka and Sain got out to bring Williamson to the plate. The right fielder continues to swing the bat well as he doubled off the glove of first baseman Steve Pearce to score Maitland all the way from first. Leading 10-4, Dueitt went back out in the ninth to close things out, but it would take Dennis to finish the job.

A combination of Dueitt and reliever Michael Nix failed to retire the Gamecocks as a Maitland error contributed to a five-run inning in the ninth. With one out and a runner on base Renfroe went to Dennis and the sophomore delivered with back-to-back strikeouts to close out the game and earn his first career save.

Game two of the series is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Saturday night with Arnold Hughey on the mound for Auburn against South Carolina's TBA starter. The game can be seen live on Comcast Sports Southeast.

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