Auburn, Ala.—With freshman Daniel Koger giving another strong performance on the mound, the Auburn Tigers got 11 hits and seven runs with two outs on the way to an 8-2 win on Sunday to take the series from Mississippi State. With the win Auburn improves to 17-11 overall and 6-3 in SEC play. The series win gives the Tigers three-consecutive series wins to open SEC play for the first time since 2003.
“Our guys came out ready to play today,” Auburn Coach John Pawlowski said. “I challenged our offense yesterday and they came out and did a great job, and then again today. We had some really, really big two-out hits. We scored the majority of our runs with two outs.
“That’s pretty good,” he added. “Not the way you draw it up, but you’ll take it. These guys committed themselves to what we’re trying to do yesterday and today. I’m just so glad to see the success they’ve had the last few days.”
Auburn got another strong outing from the freshman Koger on the mound and this time he got some help from his offense. In six innings he allowed just two runs on six hits and struck out three Mississippi State hitters to pick up his second win of the year. He said after pitching in close game after close game this season it was nice to see his offense take things over early in the win.
“It was good,” Koger said. “We hit the ball well. I think we had a lot of two-out hits, a lot of big hits with two outs. The run support was great. I felt good early on but started to wear down a little bit. It was a good day. I was locating well and I was able to throw the inside pitch, which is really big.”
At the plate Justin Bryant led the Tigers with three hits and a pair of RBI while Ryan Tella, Garrett Cooper, Cullen Wacker and Dan Glevenyak all added two hits each. For Bryant Sunday was a different experience as he was at third base for the first time this season after being mostly a pitcher and DH. He said it’s something he had to get adjusted to, but he’s ready to help the team wherever he’s needed.
“I found out this morning when I got to the field,” Bryant said of when he found out he was playing third. “It was pretty short notice. I had taken ground balls there last year so it was comfortable. I just had to get my feet going.”
Ryan Tella had two hits for the Tigers and is hitting .396 on the season.
Facing Alex City native Kendall Graveman, Auburn missed a golden opportunity to score in the first inning as Jay Gonzalez reached on a leadoff walk but was picked off first base. Following a Creede Simpson strikeout, Tella and Cooper both singled, but Wacker’s shot off the foot of Graveman bounced right to MSU second baseman Matthew Britton, who threw out Wacker at first to end the inning.
After a scoreless second Auburn finally got on the board in the third in a big way. With one out Gonzalez singled to left field, but was erased on a Simpson ground ball for the second out. Needing a two-out rally, Tella singled to right field to put runners on first and second for Cooper. Getting a pitch to drive, the junior first baseman ripped a double to left field to score both runners and make it 2-0 Auburn.
Wacker got some payback in his next at-bat as Adam Frazier booted his ground ball to score Cooper after he moved to third on an errant pick-off attempt by Graveman. That brought Bryant to the plate with a chance for more. Playing third base for the first time this season, Bryant laced a double to right field to score Wacker for the four-run Auburn lead.
An error would allow the Tigers to extend the lead to five in the fourth before Mississippi State finally got to Koger in the top of the fifth. With one out Hunter Renfroe singled on an 0-2 pitch and Sam Frost followed with a double to put runners on second and third with one out. An error by Bryant at third on a Rea ground ball allowed Renfroe to score and put runners on the corners with still just one out.
A walk to .131 hitter Matthew Britton loaded the bases for the top of the order and Adam Frazier. Unable to get Frazier out the first two days, the Tigers had struck him out twice on Sunday. This time however he laced a one-hopper right to Tella in center field. Coming up throwing Tella threw a rocket to Bryant at third base in plenty of time to get the force on Rea, but the throw short-hopped Bryant and bounced away.
That allowed Frost to score and make it 5-2, but Rea got greedy and tried to score as well. Backing up the play, Koger threw out the big first baseman at the plate for the second out. A fly ball by Tyler Fullerton ended the Mississippi State threat with Auburn still up by three.
It looked like that’s how things would stay as Graveman retired the first two hitters in fifth before Bryant singled to left field. That’s when things unraveled for him as he walked Alvord and hit catcher Blake Austin with a pitch to load the bases for Glevenyak. Struggling at the plate, Glevenyak finally got something to find a hole as his single through the left side of the infield scored two runners and gave Auburn a commanding 7-2 lead.
With reliever Slade Smith cruising through the seventh and eighth innings, Auburn was able to add some insurance on offense. After the first two batters failed to reach in the bottom of the eighth, Wacker doubled to left field to bring Bryant to the plate. He promptly delivered his third hit of the game to left field for a single that scored Wacker for the six-run advantage. Smith closed out the Bulldogs in the ninth for his third save of the season to give Auburn the series.
“We feel good right now,” Bryant said. “We’re swinging it well. The biggest thing we’re doing is pitching well. That gives the offense a chance to kind of relax and do our thing. It just feels good being out there and winning and doing our thing.”
Auburn will get back on the field Tuesday night at 6 p.m. when the Tigers host Jacksonville State at Plainsman Park.
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