Fayetteville, Ark.—Justin Bryant’s two-out single scored Jay Gonzalez with the eventual-game winner in the 10th inning and Derek Varnadore finished off a fantastic pitching night for Auburn with scoreless inning to close it out as the Tigers defeated Arkansas 3-2 to take the opening game of the series Thursday night at Baum Stadium.
Needing a win in the worst way, Auburn improves to 27-22 overall and 11-14 in SEC play while Arkansas falls to 34-16, 12-13 in league action. Looking for a complete game out of his team and one where they didn’t help the opponent, Coach John Pawlowski said he couldn’t be prouder of his club for staying tough and finding a way to win.
“I thought the guys really stepped up,” Pawlowski said. “Patrick Savage, what a day he had. He comes in with (Garrett) Cooper hurt and has a couple of nice at-bats and a big play at first base. Justin Bryant stepped up as well. Jon Luke Jacobs saved his best performance of the year for tonight. He was outstanding. Varny came in and shut the door. I’m just really excited for those guys. The thing we talked about was free bases and we won that battle. I think that had a lot to do with it tonight.”
Jacobs did a great job for the Tigers on the mound facing off against a talented Arkansas team. In eight innings the senior allowed just three hits and struck out eight batters and didn’t walk a Razorback hitter for the night. Finishing things off, Varnadore allowed just one hit in the final two innings to pick up the save. Pawlowski said the key was location for his pitchers.
“It was three pitches,” he said of Jacobs. “I thought he located three pitches tonight. That’s a very good hitting team. When you can do that and have success like he did throwing three different pitches in any count that really helps. What a stellar night for him, just unbelievable.”
Tied at two in the 10th inning Auburn needed an offensive spark against Arkansas closer and got it from leadoff man Jay Gonzalez. Taking a pitch the other way, the sophomore led off extra-innings with a double. After Creede Simpson struck out, Ryan Tella was walked to bring Savage to the plate. In for Garrett Cooper after the first baseman went down because of back spasms, Savage battled at the plate before getting a pitch to take the other way. Lifting a fly ball down the right field line, Savage looked like he had put the Tigers on top with a double but the ball was ruled foul. He eventually struck out to bring Bryant to the plate.
Already with two hits on the night, Bryant continued his torrid pace the last five games with a seeing-eye single that just got through the middle. Gonzalez scored easily on the play to put Auburn up 3-2. Bryant said he just fought and things just went his way when the ball got through the hole.
“I already had four at-bats on the day and I had a sequence in my mind that they had been pitching me all night,” Bryant said. “It was the exact opposite of what I had in mind. That was good on their part. I just went into panic mode with two strikes just trying to put something in play. I just sat on something straight and ended up getting it. It wasn’t the best swing in the world, but it squeezed through. That’s just baseball.”
On in relief of Jacobs, Varnadore sat down the top of the Arkansas order in the ninth but still had some work to do after giving up a one-out single in the bottom of the 10th. A passed ball moved the potential tying run into scoring position, but the senior struck out the next Razorback and got a fly ball to Gonzalez in right field to end the game and secure his third victory of the season.
“It’s really, really big,” Bryant said of the win. “We’ve been struggling lately getting runners on base and getting them in. We kind of worked that tonight against a good pitching staff. Getting this first win under our belt is huge for us.”
Auburn got off to a great start Thursday night against Arkansas starter D.J. Baxendale as Gonzalez took a pitch the other way to lead off the game and dropped it in for a double to get the Tigers going. Following a bunt by Simpson to move the sophomore over to third, Tella did his job with a ground ball to the right side. Gonzalez scored easily on the play to make it 1-0 Auburn early in the contest.
The Tigers had a chance to add to their lead in the second inning as Bryant singled to open the inning. Moving to second on a ground ball, Bryant was joined on the base paths as Blake Austin walked to put a pair on for the Tigers. Auburn’s fastest player, Bobby Andrews hit a slow roller to Tim Carver at shortstop, but was thrown out by a half-step to move both runners into scoring position. Zach Alvord struck out to end the threat for Auburn however and keep it a one-run game.
Jacobs cruised through the first three innings before finally giving up a hit in the fourth inning and it was a costly one. With two outs, Jacobs fell behind Matt Reynolds 3-1 and grooved a fastball over the middle of the plate. Reynolds made him pay as he deposited it into the bullpen for a solo home run to tie the game at one.
In the fifth the Tigers got a leadoff walk to Austin and a stolen base to move into scoring position with nobody out, but three consecutive strikeouts kept him there. Again in the sixth Auburn had an opportunity to take the lead as Tella singled up the middle with one out. Cooper then hit a ground ball up the middle that Carver ran down and threw to second. Slowing down and not sliding into the bag, Tella appeared to just make it in safely but was called out.
It proved to be big as Bryant laced one into left-center that hit in front of the wall and bounced over for a ground-rule double. With runners at second and third and two outs, Arkansas went to the bullpen for Brandon Moore. On the first pitch Glevenyak hit a ground ball right back at the pitcher for out number three.
The missed opportunities would prove deadly for the Tigers as Jake Wise hit a shallow fly ball into center field to start the bottom of the sixth. Unfortunately for Auburn, Tella and Andrews had a miscommunication and the ball fell between them for a double. A bunt moved the runner to third where Jacob Mahan’s fly ball scored him easily from third to give the Razorbacks the lead. Despite having just two hits in six innings Arkansas held the lead with only nine outs remaining for the Tigers.
In the seventh again it was the hustle of Arkansas that paid dividends for the Razorbacks. Leading off the inning, Reynolds hit what appeared to be a single into left field but he never slowed down and slid into second ahead of the relay throw from Glevenyak. A bunt moved the runner over to third for pinch hitter Derrick Bleeker. With the runner on third Jacobs threw a great breaking ball that Bleeker missed on a suicide squeeze. The Tigers threw out Reynolds to erase the runner for out number two. Jacobs got a fly ball to end the inning and keep Auburn only down one run.
With some momentum the Tigers finally got a break as Simpson reached on an infield single to start the top of the eighth inning and stole second to move into scoring position with nobody out. Following a Tella strikeout, Savage came to the plate after coming on for an injured Cooper (muscle spasms). Getting a pitch to drive, the sophomore laced a double into right field to score Simpson and tie the game at two. He was stranded at third to end the eighth, but the Tigers were tied again. That’s how things would stay until the dramatic win in the 10th inning.
Auburn will send freshman Daniel Koger (3-4, 2.74 ERA) to the mound on Friday night at 6:30 as the Tigers go for the series win against the Razorbacks. Arkansas will counter with LHP Randall Fant (2-2, 4.04).
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