Starting pitcher Arnold Hughey earned his second win of the season after pitching six innings and allowing just five hits and two runs to the Rams. Relievers Jared Shore, John Madden and Michael Nix also pitched well, giving up just one run and one hit in three innings of work.
Coach Tommy Slater noted that pitching was the key to victory for the Tigers in a chilly Friday. "It was a tremendous pitching performance," he said. "Arnold Hughey, even though we sent him back out in the sixth because his pitch count was low, I thought he looked a little tired.
"He was only at about 74 pitches, but it was a little chillier night and I thought he looked out of gas a little bit. He didn't want to come out, but Shore came in and did a great job. When we got to their three hole hitter (Scott) Sizemore, I kind of wanted Madden to throw to him. He gave up a loud out, but got through it. Then Nix was outstanding in the ninth to get another save."
On an evening when the offense left runners on base in every inning but three, the Tigers got it done with timely hitting from the top of the order. Second baseman Tyler Johnstone had two hits along with third baseman Adam Stacey, but it was Thomas who stole the show. His three hits included a long home run. Slater said that Thomas changed a few things this week and it paid off Friday. "Clete is a very good hitter, a very gifted hitter, with tremendous tools," Slater said. "He's got as good of tools as anybody I've been around. At the end of the year his numbers will be there. We watched some video this week and the only thing he was doing, he was just getting his rhythm started a little bit late.
"There's a timing mechanism that you work off the pitcher with. He was just getting started a little late. He worked on it in practice. I would say he got it done on time tonight."
Arnold Hughey was the winner on the mound.
Auburn wasted little time in getting on the board against the Rams as Thomas singled with one out in the first inning to get his day off to a good start. After stealing second during a Josh Bell at-bat that ended in a strikeout, the junior right fielder scored following a Karl Amonite walk when true freshman designated hitter Russell Dixon singled to right field to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead.
The lead grew to two runs in the second as third baseman Adam Stacey singled left to open the inning and stole second to move into scoring position. Shortstop Phillip Stringer then walked to set the table for Bruce Edwards and Tyler Johnstone. While Edwards didn't get the job done, flying out to left field, Johnstone singled to score Stacey and make it 2-0 Tigers.
With Hughey cruising on the mound the Tigers came back for more in the bottom of the third. With one out Dixon and Derek Sain both walked to bring Stacey to the plate. Fighting off a pitch, he hit a blooper just out of the reach of the VCU first baseman for a single to load the bases for Stringer. Struggling with his control at the time, Ram pitcher Harold Mozingo balked and then hit Stringer on the follow-through to make it a three run lead.
The trend continued in the fourth for Auburn as the Tigers added another single run to the lead. Struggling at the plate coming into the game, Thomas got a run the quick way for the Tigers when he drilled a 3-2 pitch deep over the VCU bullpen in right field for a solo home run. It was Thomas' second home run of the season and it gave the Tigers a 4-0 lead.
"Things finally started falling and I finally started swinging the bat well," Thomas said. "I have been struggling the last three or four games and I have to keep working hard. I was just trying to work the count and I missed a fastball on the 3-1 pitch. On 3-2 I was just trying to put it in play and hit it hard. I hit it good."
Virtually unhittable through the first five innings, allowing just two hits and no runs, Hughey showed signs of tiring in the sixth as he neared the 80 pitch plateau. Left fielder Kwan Evans led off the inning with an infield single that Stringer couldn't handle at short. Center fielder Joe Meador followed with an infield single of his own to put a runner in scoring position for the first time in the game for the Rams.
Shortstop Sergio Miranda then put VCU on the board for the first time when he singled to left to score Evans and make it 4-1 Tigers. Following a wild pitch, Scott Sizemore lifted a fly ball to new left fielder Ben Sprague. It was deep enough to score Meador and cut the lead to just two heading to the seventh inning.
The Rams added a single run in the eighth after a leadoff double by Evans against Shore got the inning started. He eventually scored on a groundout by Miranda, but that would be all for VCU on this night.
Madden got the final out of the eighth and turned things over to Nix in the ninth to shut the door on the visitors. Hughey said that the pitching staff is gaining confidence with every outing and Friday's performance only adds to that for the rest of the weekend.
"I think the whole pitching staff is becoming more confident in each of ourselves," Hughey said. "We've got a pretty young staff and everyone has to go out there and handle the nerves and adrenaline. I think as the year goes on we'll be pretty good."