Auburn, Ala.—Auburn got a two-out single from Ryan Tella in the eighth inning that scored Zach Alvord to break a 3-3 tie and then held on as first baseman Garrett Cooper threw out LSU’s Arby Fields at the plate to end the game giving Auburn a 4-3 win Friday night at Plainsman Park.
With two outs and Fields on second, relief pitcher Justin Bryant forced a ground ball to Creede Simpson at second base, but Simpson's throw was wild. Cooper had the presence of mind to turn and throw out the speedy Fields at the plate to end the game, much to the dismay of the LSU team and coaches.
With the baseball victory Auburn improves to 14-8 overall and 3-1 in SEC play. The Tigers have now won eight of their last 10 games. Eighth-ranked LSU falls to 17-5 overall and 2-2 in league play.
“What a ball game,” Auburn Coach John Pawlowski said. “Both teams had some opportunities. Derek Varnadore did a good job. He got two big ground ball double plays to get out of innings.
"On Friday night to go deep into the game, into the eighth inning, says a lot about his character and make-up. We had some big two out hits and I’m just proud of the way our team handled itself tonight.”
In a game dominated by outstanding starting pitching from Auburn’s Varnadore (seven and one/third innings, six hits, one earned run) and LSU’s Kevin Gausman (five innings, six hits, two earned runs), in the end the story was a never-say-die Auburn offense. Despite leaving 12 runners on base in eight innings, Auburn did not five in and kept answering when it was needed the most.
That was never more apparent than in the bottom of the eighth. In the top of the inning LSU used a solo home run to tie the game and take the momentum back from Auburn, but the home-standing Tigers weren’t fazed.
Leading off the eighth, Alvord drilled a double to left field to put himself in scoring position for the top of the Auburn order. It was the second big hit of the night for Alvord as he also had a two-run single in the fourth for the Tigers. He said it was just a night when he got some things going and was able to help his team.
“Gausman is an awesome pitcher with great stuff and you can’t try to do too much when you have a guy like that on the mound,” Alvord said. “All you’re really trying to do is get the barrel to the baseball and I was able to do that tonight.
“In the last at-bat I was able to work the count a little bit and got a pitch middle-in that I could handle,” he added. “I was able to barrel that one too. Good things happen when you get the barrel to the ball.”
Standing on second, Alvord moved to third moments later on a Jay Gonzalez sacrifice bunt. With senior Creede Simpson at the plate and the infield in things looked good for Auburn, but reliever Kurt McCune got him to pop up for the second out of the inning. That brought Tella to the plate against the hard-throwing reliever Nick Goody.
One of the heroes from last Sunday’s win over Ole Miss, Tella got down two strikes before battling back and getting a pitch to hit. Pulling the ball through the right side for a single, Tella drove home Alvord to put the Tigers on top for good.
“I just had to pick up the hitters in front of me,” Tella said. “We needed two-out hits and we haven’t been getting them. I think we left 12 runners on base and I was trying to fight back after the earlier at-bats I had. I just tried to put something in play and it worked out.”
Alvord scores the game winner for the Tigers
Now with the lead and reliever Slade Smith on the mound the Tigers quickly got two outs before Austin Nola doubled to left field to bring Bryant in the game to face Grant Dozar. With Fields at second Bryant got a ground ball to Simpson at second, but the wet ground forced an errant throw that Cooper grabbed off the ground and threw to Blake Austin at the plate. The sophomore catcher put the tag on Fields to secure the win for the Tigers.
“I threw him a two-seam away and he happened to wrap around it and got a good barrel on it,” Bryant said. “That’s always a hard play for a second baseman. The grass is soaking wet and I give Creede every bit of his athleticism to be able to make that play. It just happened to slip out of his hand, but Cooper had the head on him to stay calm and pick it up and throw it. Blake blocked the plate and made a great tag. It was good execution by everybody.”
Cruising through the first inning, both pitchers ran into trouble in the second but escaped without damage. For Varnadore it came when he walked designated hitter Tyler Moore with one out and allowed a single from catcher Ty Ross to put runners on the corners and bring Tyler Hanover to the plate. Getting a slow ground ball to second, Auburn got a great play from Simpson as he tagged Ross before throwing to first to get Hanover for the double play.
Getting the first two Auburn hitters, Gausman ran into some trouble of his own in the bottom of the second as a two-out single by Bryant rattled the usually unflappable pitcher. Consecutive walks to Dan Glevenyak and Caleb Bowen loaded the bases, but Alvord struck out to end the threat and keep the game scoreless.
Finally Auburn broke through in the fourth and again got some help from Gausman. Cullen Wacker led things off with a double off the wall in right field and a walk to Cooper brought Bryant to the plate. A veteran, Bryant put down a perfect sacrifice bunt to move the runners into scoring position for Glevenyak.
Playing the odds, LSU walked the shortstop intentionally to load the bases. It was the fourth walk of the night for Gausman, who had just six in 36 innings coming into the game. It proved to be a good move for one batter as Caleb Bowen struck out, but Alvord would come up huge for the Tigers. Getting a fastball to hit, Bowen drilled it past a diving Hanover at third for a single. The hit scored both Wacker and Cooper to make it 2-0 Auburn.
Another walk to Jay Gonzalez brought Simpson up with a chance to break the game open for Auburn, but his ground ball to short brought the inning to a close.
Auburn continued to put the pressure on Gausman in the fifth as Wacker singled with one out and moved to second on a single by Cooper. Looking to move the runners up at least, Bryant hit a fly ball to right field that Mason Katz caught. However his throw was wide of second and the error moved the runners to second and third. Gausman recovered to strike out Glevenyak to end the threat and keep it 2-0 Auburn.
Derek Varnadore went 7 1/3 innings for Auburn
Flirting with danger early in the game, Varnadore had been stellar through five innings but ran into trouble in the sixth. With one out JaCoby Jones hit a routine ground ball to Glevenyak at short, but his throw was wild for an error. Chris Sciambra followed with a single to left field to move the runner around to third with one out.
A fly ball from Mason Katz to right field easily scored Jones to put LSU on the board and cut the Auburn lead in half. Deciding to test Bowen, LSU sent Sciambra from first and he just beat the throw for the stolen base. It proved to be huge as Raph Rhymes singled to center field to score him from second and tie the game at two.
In the seventh Simpson singled to lead off the inning against reliever Chris Cotton. A sacrifice bunt by Tella moved him to second before Wacker was walked intentionally to bring Cooper to the plate. Coming in out of the bullpen, LSU right-hander Nick Rumbelow got a ground ball to short that cut down Wacker at second for the force to bring Bryant to the plate.
Clutch his entire career, Bryant singled up the middle for his second hit of the night. Simpson scored on the play to give Auburn back the lead at 3-2. Glevenyak was then hit by a pitch to load the bases for the third time on the night with two outs, this time for Austin. Coming in for Bowen in the seventh, Austin struck out to end the threat and send Varnadore back out in the eighth with the lead once again.
After getting the first out of the inning, Varnadore fell behind Jones and grooved a fastball down the middle of the plate. Jones deposited it deep over the left field wall for his first home run of the season to tie the game at three. That was all for Varnadore as Smith came on to try to keep LSU’s offense in check.
Auburn’s defense again let down as Glevenyak booted a Sciambra ground ball to bring Katz to the plate. A ground ball to Cooper at first moved the runner to second with two outs for Rhymes. An intentional walk to the SEC’s leading hitter brought Moore up with a chance to break it open for LSU, but a ground ball to Simpson and a flip to Glevenyak covering second closed the inning and set up Auburn for the dramatic win.
Wacker, Bryant and Alvord all had two hits for Auburn as the Tigers finished with 10 hits on the night. Smith got the win to improve to 1-3 on the year while Bryant picked up his third save.
Auburn will go for its third consecutive series win over LSU Saturday at 3 p.m. when sophomore left-hander Will Kendall (3-0, 1.69 ERA) goes up against sophomore Ryan Eades (4-1, 1.95) for LSU. The first pitch is scheduled for 3 p.m.
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