Tigers Stay Alive With 3-2 Win Over Georgia

Daniel Koger

Auburn beat the Georgia Bulldogs to advance to Thursday at the SEC Tournament in Hoover.

Hoover, Ala.—Auburn built an early three-run lead in Wednesday's loser's bracket game of the SEC Tournament against the Georgia Bulldogs and held on for a 3-2 victory as Justin Bryant got Colby May on a fly ball to left field with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the ninth to secure the win. Also a star at the plate with a solo home run and a pair of walks, Bryant was one of several stars for the Tigers in the victory.

Another was starting pitcher Daniel Koger. Making his first career start in the SEC Tournament, the true freshman got the win for the Tigers (31-27) as he allowed no runs on seven hits in five and one/third innings. Derek Varnadore allowed both of Georgia's runs in two and one/third inning while Bryant finished things off to earn his seventh save of the season.

"It has kind of been a theme the whole year with every game, every pitch and every situation and here we were again," Coach John Pawlowski said. "It was the ninth inning and anything can happen. We were very fortunate today to come out with a win. I'm really proud of our team. I thought our team responded well today."

At no time did that show up more than in the bottom of the ninth inning. Clinging to a one-run lead Bryant got the Georgia (31-26) leadoff man on a groundout to bring Kyle Farmer to the plate. Getting a pitch to drive, he sent it screaming into right field for a triple to put the tying run on third base with just one out.

Deciding to let his guy swing away instead of squeezing the run home, Georgia's David Perno put the game in the hands of his team. It almost paid off as Brett DeLoach hit a screaming ground ball, but it was directly to Dan Glevenyak at short. He looked the runner back to third and threw to first for the second out.

Pitching carefully, Bryant walked Hunter Cole to bring Peter Verdin to the plate with runners on the corners. Getting ahead 0-2, Bryant threw a breaking ball that stayed inside on the right-handed hitter. Sticking his arm out, Verdin was hit by the pitch but home plate umpire Scott Kennedy kept him at the plate. Ahead in the count Bryant threw breaking ball after breaking ball in the dirt and Auburn senior catcher Caleb Bowen blocked each and every one.

In the end Bryant walked Verdin to load the bases and bring May to the plate. Jumping on the first pitch he sent it screaming into left field but directly at Auburn's Bobby Andrews. He squeezed the ball for the final out to keep the Tigers alive in the SEC Tournament. Now Auburn awaits the loser of Vanderbilt-South Carolina at 4:30 on Thursday.

"To be able to do that (save a win) in the SEC Tournament, to me it's a humongous deal," Bryant said. "I take pitching seriously and having this guy (Bowen) behind the plate gives you confidence. He's a brick wall. You can throw anything you want to and nothing is getting by him. Being able to get the save a the win to push us farther in the tournament is huge for me."

Justin Bryant is congratulated after his home run.

Auburn got the offense untracked early on a warm Wednesday as Jay Gonzalez worked a walk to lead things off in the first and quickly stole second to move into scoring position with nobody out. Following a Creede Simpson fly ball and a Ryan Tella strikeout, Bryant also walked to put a pair of runners on for Patrick Savage. Still playing in place of an injured Garrett Cooper, Savage came through with a single up the middle to score Gonzalez for the 1-0 advantage.

In the third it was again Gonzalez that got Auburn's offense started. Leading off with a single, he immediately stole second and when DeLoach's throw sailed into center field he trotted to third base on the error. Doing his job, Simpson put the ball on the ground to score the speedy Gonzalez for the two-run Auburn lead. One batter later the Tigers were on the board again as Bryant blasted a Michael Palazzone pitch over the left field wall for a solo home run. It was his fourth career homer against the Bulldogs and it put the Tigers up 3-0.

Jay Gonzalez had two of Auburn's five stolen bases in the win.

With Koger doing a solid job on the mound, Auburn had a chance to add to its lead in the fifth as Simpson singled and stole second to start the inning. Following a Tella fly ball, Bryant walked for the second time in the game to put a pair of runners on for the Tigers. Georgia went to the bullpen for Blake Dietrich at that moment and it was the right call as a Savage fly ball and a Zach Alvord pop up ended the threat.

After getting out of some early trouble, Koger cruised into the sixth inning with Auburn holding a three-run lead but singles by DeLoach and Peter Verdin with one out brought his day to a close. Facing his hometown team, Varnadore pitched out the jam by getting a fly ball and a ground ball to end the inning.

The Tigers had another chance to increase their lead in the eighth as both Savage and Glevenyak reached base, but failed to score. The two left on for Auburn gave the Tigers nine in eight innings with Georgia still having two innings to respond.

Not wasting any time, the Bulldogs got a one-out walk from Cole to get the rally started. Following an infield single, Varnadore got May on a fly ball to get the second out. That's all he would get however as singles from pinch hitter Nelson Ward and Conor Welton scored both Cole and Verdin to cut the Tigers' lead down to just one.

With runners on first and second and two outs Bryant was summoned to try to keep the Tigers in the lead. Facing the leadoff man Curt Powell, the senior struck him out to keep Auburn in the lead and set the stage for the dramatic finish.

Auburn will face either Vanderbilt or South Carolina on Thursday at 4:30. Pawlowski said it will likely be Dillon Ortman, Cory Luckie or Trey Cochran-Gill on the mound for the Tigers. As for the pressure of winning games to get in the NCAA Tournament, he said his team is just focused on playing well and everything else will take care of itself.

"We haven't talked about the tournament to be honest with you," Pawlowski said. "We have talked about this tournament. Our guys know what we have to do. Our focus is on sticking around and playing for tomorrow. That has been our theme and our focus. We'll let the committee decide what they decide. We can't control that. The only thing we can control is trying to score some runs and playing hard for 27 outs."

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