AUBURN, Ala (EETV) - In what shaped up to be a low scoring dominant pitchers duel, the Auburn Tigers snag the lead late in the ballgame game and hold on for the win. The Tigers (22-15-1) win over Mississippi State (22-16) is a big one as this is a big series for both teams in playoff hopes.
Offensively this game was quiet, but for Auburn's struggling bullpen it couldn't have been louder. Starter Tommy Vail (3-1) had a career night going five strong innings allowing three hits while fanning 10. Vail did get into some trouble however, but this is where he shined.
When the pressure was on, Vail heated up. In the bottom of the third, Vail allowed runner to second and third after a couple of hits with only one out. Vail struck the next to batters he faced to escape the jam. After a leadoff walk in the fifth, Vail found himself in a bine again after walking another batter, and allowing them to get comfortable in scoring position. However, this time with two outs; Vail got another K to pick himself up.
The Tigers carried Vail's swagger and momentum right into the bottom of the fifth with a leadoff solo shot from first basemen Cooper McMurray, his ninth of the year. This was a big swing of the bat for the Tigers, as it was their first hit of the game off of Miss. State starter Cade Smith.
Smith had his light on the mound as well, going 6.0 IP allowing just one run and three hits, while punching out six. The Tigers had another chance to score in the inning after Nate LaRue walked and Chris Stanfield struck a base hit to center field; LaRue rounded third trying to score but was thrown out by a good bit, and would've been better off staying at third.
Reliever John Armstrong (6-1) was called upon to follow Vail. Armstrong went 1.2 innings giving up one earned run off of one hit. Armstrong had no trouble in his first inning of work retiring every batter he faced. His next inning was a different story. In the top of the seventh after retiring his first batter, Armstrong walked and balked the second into scoring position. David Mershon then hit a groundball to second and after a bang bang play at first he was safe.
McMurray went straight to the umpire to give his appeal on the play, meanwhile Amani Larry with the heads up play rounded third and scored, once McMurray noticed what was going on it was two late and rushed his throw to home making an error. Tanner Bauman (3-1) came in to snag the last out in the seventh. Bauman went just an inning and a third allowing no hits or runs and is credited with the win.
In the bottom of the eighth after a leadoff single from Stanfield, Cole Foster got the sign to sac bunt. Foster popped the bunt up behind the plate, making the grab was Miss. State catcher Ross Highfill, who didn't anticipate Stanfield's speed. Stanfield tagged up on the bunt and made it to second before an errant throw allowed him to advance to third. Bobby Pierce then put a ball deep enough into centerfield for Stanfield to score on the sac fly. The one run was all the Tigers needed as Will Cannon closed the game and is credited with the a save.
"For a few weeks we weren't in the position to win a game two to one," Head Coach Butch Thompson said. "... it's pretty nice to play limbo and get beneath here and win a two to one ball game. We need to embrace that, it's been tough and challenging and we don't need to run from that. This needs to be embraced, the possibilities on what we can do. We've been hunting for this, we've been searching for this. We hadn't just been sayin 'hey the game will turn up for us,' we've been meeting more and grinding more and adjusting ourselves inside and out. this night needs to be lifted up. This didn't just happen tonight, this has been worked for a period of time by a bunch of guys that's hung in there for us."
The Tigers are set to take on Miss. State April 22, at 2 CT for game two of this important three game series. Christian Herberholz will get the start for the Tigers.