Fayetteville, Ark.—Auburn scored runs in the first eight innings and pounded Arkansas pitching for 18 hits as the Tigers rolled over the Razorbacks 12-5 on Saturday to win an important series in Southeastern Conference baseball play.
Now 28-23 overall and 12-15 in SEC games, the Tigers qualified for the SEC Tournament in Hoover after Ole Miss beat Tennessee in extra innings on Saturday.
A game that went back and forth the first four innings, Auburn outscored Arkansas 7-0 the rest of the way to run away with the victory. Jay Gonzalez, Ryan Tella and Bobby Andrews all had three hits for the Tigers with Creede Simpson, Patrick Savage and Caleb Bowen all adding two hits in the game.
The spark may have started in the fourth inning when Auburn Coach John Pawlowski was ejected from the game after arguing a call at first base. Arkansas tied the game that inning, but the Tigers responded in a big way to take the win ssistant coach Scott Foxhall noted.
“I can’t be more proud of our guys,” Foxhall said. “Coach Pawlowski gave us a spark there in the early innings and stuck up for our guys on a play we felt like we got an out, and our guys responded. They battled and they didn’t back down.
"They took it to another level and we finished this thing off this weekend," Foxhall added. "I can’t be more proud of the Auburn Tigers.”
Coming off a disappointing loss on Friday night, Gonzalez said the team was focused and determined to get a win in the final game of the series on Saturday and it showed with the balance up and down the lineup.
“Last night was a very rough game, very hard-fought on both sides,” Gonzalez said. “It put a beating on us, but we had a simple job. We knew that if we wanted to keep rolling and have a chance at the postseason then we needed to come out and do our job and that’s what we did. We came out and stayed aggressive and just jumped on them.
“All one through nine stepped up today,” he added. “Bobby in the eight-hole did a phenomenal job. Mitchell was just doing what he does best. He’s a great chemistry guy and came in and did his job. All the credit just does to the entire team. It was just all of us.”
On the mound Auburn starter Dillon Ortman allowed three runs on four hits in two innings and reliever Jay Wade followed, allowing two runs on three hits in just one and two/thirds innings.
The keys to victory on the mound came from Slade Smith and Justin Bryant.
Auburn’s third pitcher of the day, Smith got the win after giving up just two hits and no runs in two innings. Bryant finished things off in dominant fashion, allowing just one hit in three and one/third innings of relief.
In a game in which both pitching staffs entered in somewhat of a bind because of injuries, it was expected to be a shootout on Saturday and that is how things started. In the first inning Gonzalez doubled to lead off and one out later Tella walked to put runners on the corners for Bryant. A ground ball from the senior pushed across the first run for the Tigers, but just like the entire game Arkansas would answer back.
As was the case in Friday’s contest, Dominic Ficociello put Arkansas on the board with the long ball in the first inning with a solo home run, but the Tigers would respond in the second. A walk to Dan Glevenyak brought the bottom of the Auburn order to the plate and they all delivered. Consecutive singles by Bowen, Andrews and Self made it 2-1 Tigers with still nobody out.
Reliever Tyler Wright came on for the Razorbacks and immediately walked Gonzalez to force home a run for the two-run Auburn lead. With the heart of the Auburn order up and the bases still loaded it was an opportunity for the Tigers to break the game open early. Instead Simpson’s strikeout and a double play off the bat of Tella brought the inning to a crashing halt with the Tigers up 3-1.
Once again Arkansas answered back with a run in the second before the Tigers got the run back in the third on one swing of the bat. Playing for the injured Garrett Cooper for the second day in a row, Savage delivered his second home run in as many days with a solo shot to make it 4-2 Auburn going to the bottom of the third.
A walk to Tim Carver to start the inning was the end of the day for Ortman as Wade came on in relief for the Tigers. He quickly allowed a single to put runners on the corners before recovering to strike out Ficociello. He couldn’t escape completely, however, as Matt Reynolds singled home Carver to cut Auburn’s lead back to one.
The Tigers continued to keep the pressure on in the fourth as a two-out single by Gonzalez and a stolen base moved him into scoring position for Simpson. This time the senior came through with a double to push home the fifth Auburn run of the game.
With an opportunity to take command of the game on the mound, Auburn instead kept Arkansas in the contest with a rough fourth inning for the second day in a row. With one out Bo Bigham reached first on an infield single on a close play at first base. Arguing the call, Pawlowski was ejected from the game and his team lost its focus.
Struggling on the mound, Wade hit Jake Wise with a pitch before uncorking a wild pitch to move the runners into scoring position. A sacrifice bunt pushed across Bigham from third and moved the tying run to third before the second walk of the inning put Carver on first for Jacob Mahan. His single scored Wise and just like that the game was tied again.
In the fifth inning a walk to Glevenyak with one out sparked the Tigers. After moving to second on a groundout, he scored on an Andrews single to put Auburn back in front 6-5. After the first scoreless inning of the game from Smith in relief, the Tigers went back to work in the sixth looking for more runs
With one out Auburn got more help from Arkansas as Gonzalez walked to bring Simpson to the plate. His pop up for out number two brought Tella to the plate and the center fielder singled for his third hit of the day. Bryant continued his clutch play with a single through the left side to score Gonzalez for the two-run Auburn lead.
Already with several big hits for the series, Savage delivered another as his single to right field scored Tella to give the Tigers an 8-5 lead.
In the bottom of the sixth the two-out curse almost struck Auburn as Smith sandwiched a pair of walks around a Carver double to load the bases and bring Ficociello to the plate. The Tigers went to the bullpen for Bryant and on the first pitch the senior got a pop up from the dangerous first baseman to end the threat and keep the Tigers up by three.
Auburn wasn’t done as the momentum carried over on offense into the seventh inning as Bowen doubled as the leadoff hitter. An Andrews single brought Self to the plate with runners on the corners and the fill-in third baseman again delivered with a squeeze to score Bowen. Safe on the play, that put runners on first and second for Gonzalez.
Dropping a perfect bunt single, the speedy sophomore right fielder loaded the bases with still nobody out for the Tigers. A Simpson infield single and a fielder’s choice from Tella pushed across two more runs for the Tigers as they now led 11-5 through seven innings.
Another single run in the eighth put Auburn up by a touchdown and Bryant’s three scoreless innings of relief sealed the win.
Auburn returns home this week to face Florida A&M on Monday night and Jacksonville State on Tuesday night before closing the regular season against the Florida Gators beginning Thursday at Plainsman Park.
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