Auburn, Ala.—Auburn sent 12 men to plate and scored seven runs to break open a tie game in the eighth inning on the way to a 12-5 win over the Tennessee Vols Friday night at Plainsman Park. Zach Alvord led the Tigers’ attack with three hits and five RBI and senior pitcher Derek Varnadore came out of the bullpen to earn his second win of the season as Auburn improves to 23-19 overall and 8-11 with the win.
The Tigers’ win, combined with a pair of losses by Alabama and a loss by Vanderbilt, have the Tigers just one game out of fifth-place in the SEC and a game out of second in the Western Division.
Auburn pounded Tennessee (22-20, 7-12) pitching for 14 hits in the victory as Jay Gonzalez and Bobby Andrews both added three hits in addition to Alvord. The bottom of the order was the key for the Tigers’ attack as Blake Austin’s two hits combined with Alvord, Gonzalez and Andrews made the 6-9 hitters a combined 11-17 with 10 RBI for the game. Coach John Pawlowski said that was the difference for his team.
“We had two really big innings,” Pawlowski said. “We scored four runs in the third inning, which was really big for us, and then in the eighth inning Bobby Andrews had a leadoff double and we did some good things with the short game. We got some big hits and the bottom of the order was really good. Those guys did a really good job for us.”
On the mound starter Jon Luke Jacobs allowed three runs on four hits in three and two/thirds innings while Slade Smith came on and allowed two runs on four hits in two and one/thirds innings. They set the table for Varnadore and the senior was dominant, allowing just one hit and striking out three in three scoreless innings to earn his first win since opening day.
“I didn’t know the game was tied when I went out there,” Varnadore said. “It just feels good to pick up a win on Friday night. We needed that one and I needed that one. I’m just going out there and slinging it. It feels good to just go out there and throw fastballs. I threw one breaking ball tonight. I think it’s helping clean my mechanics up because it’s getting everything out of me.”
Derek Varnadore picked up the win for the Tigers
Holding an early 5-0 lead, Auburn couldn’t make it stand up as Tennessee chipped away to eventually tie the game in the sixth. That’s how things stood in the bottom of the eighth when the Tigers came to bat against relief ace Drew Steckenrider. Already with three innings under his belt, he faced Andrews to open the inning and left one out over the plate a little too much.
The result was a double to left field for the speedy Andrews, a hit that Pawlowski said immediately energized his dugout. It showed on the field as a Ryan Tella sacrifice bunt and a Creede Simpson fly ball to right field pushed across Andrews to put Auburn up 6-5. With two outs and nobody on it looked like Varnadore would have a very small cushion to work with in the ninth, but the Tigers were just getting started.
A walk to Garrett Cooper was the end of the night for Steckenrider as Nick Blount came on for the Vols. He hit Justin Bryant with a pitch and then walked Dan Glevenyak to load the bases for the Tigers and bring Austin to the plate. Auburn was due for a clutch hit and the catcher delivered with a single to left field to score two and make it 8-5 Auburn.
Gonzalez singled to score another run and when Alvord’s second double of the game scored two more the rout was on. A single by Andrews, his second hit of the night and third of the game, finished off the scoring for the Tigers as Gonzalez scored the seventh run of the inning. Varnadore slammed the door for the 12-5 win.
“I tried to change a few things in my swing,” Alvord said. “I was seeing the ball really good tonight. It felt good to finally barrel the ball a few times. Coach P likes to say ‘hang around with some teams and find a way to win at the end’. The team came out fired up tonight and kind of did the opposite. We came out and jumped on them from the get-go and got after it.”
There were some fireworks after the game as well as Tennessee Coach Dave Serrano had something to say to Pawlowski following the win and it didn’t sit well as they two exchanged some words for several minutes. Alvord said he’s not sure what it was about, but it was good to see the fire from Pawlowski for the team.
“Coach P is doing a great job,” Alvord said. “I have no idea what it was about, but it was good to see the team fighting and good to see coach having our backs. That was great.”
Auburn started the scoring in the bottom of the second inning as shortstop Glevenyak doubled down the third base line to get things going for the Tigers. A bunt from catcher Austin moved him to third with one out for Gonzalez, but a walk to the right fielder put runners on the corners for Alvord.
Getting a pitch to pull, the sophomore bounced a single through the left side to easily score Glevenyak for the 1-0 Auburn lead. With runners still at first and third the Tigers were unable to add to the total however as Bobby Andrews’ fly ball and a Ryan Tella strikeout brought the inning to a close.
The Tigers continued the offensive production in the second as Simpson doubled to left field and scored moments later on a Cooper single for the two-run lead. A sacrifice bunt from Bryant moved Cooper into scoring position and a walk to Glevenyak put a pair of runners on for Auburn.
Following a fly ball out to left field, Gonzalez delivered with a single to right field. The hit scored Cooper easily from second and made it 3-0 Auburn. The Tigers weren’t done however as Alvord crushed a 3-2 pitch off the wall in left field for a double. Both runners scored on the play to give Jacobs a five-run lead to work with.
It wouldn’t last long as Jacobs walked Zach Osborne to start the fourth inning and a Steckenrider single put runners on first and second with nobody out for the Vols. With Davis Morgan at the plate a wild pitch put both runners into scoring position. A single to right field put Tennessee on the board and left runners on the corners with nobody out.
Another single, this one by Chris Fritts, pushed across another run to cut Auburn’s lead down to 5-2. A ground ball off the bat of Jake Rowland allowed Jacobs to get his first out of the inning, but scored another run for Tennessee to cut the lead down to just two. A two out walk to .163 hitter Ethan Bennett was the end of the day for Jacobs however as Smith came on and got a ground ball to end the inning.
In the fifth the Vols added a single run following a leadoff double by Maddox to cut the lead to one, and then the visitors tied things up in the sixth. Chris Pierce led off with an infield single and then Smith compounded the problems by walking Bennett for the second time on the night. It proved to be a huge play as a bunt moved the runners up and a Maddox groundout scored the tying run.
Auburn had a shot to take the lead back in the seventh after Varnadore pitched a scoreless top of the inning as Bryant reached to lead off after being hit by a pitch. With two outs and the runner on second, Gonzalez ripped a single off Steckenrider on the mound to put runners on the corners for Alvord. Facing the powerful right-hander, Alvord struck out to end the threat and keep the game tied, but the Tigers would break it open the next inning to get the win.
The Tigers will go for the series win tomorrow as freshman Daniel Koger takes the mound against Robbie Kidd for the Vols for the 3 p.m. start.
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