The win improves Auburn to 25-15 overall and 8-7 in SEC play while Kentucky falls to 18-16 overall, 2-12 in conference action. Auburn Coach Tommy Slater said the game was a tough one for his team and he’s especially proud of the way his bullpen performed in the game led by sophomore Grant Cardwell.
Cardwell earned the victory in Sunday’s game, allowing just one hit in three and one/thirds innings of relief of starter Cliff Mullins. Relievers John Madden and Michael Nix closed the door on the game with Nix earning his 10th save of the year.
“Cliff wasn’t very good,” Slater said. “He didn’t have very good command today. He had six free baserunners, which gave them a run early. Cardwell was outstanding. It was a good match left-on-left with all the left-handed hitters they had. Madden didn’t have his best stuff today, but he gutted through the sixth and some of the seventh for us. Nix was very good. He made one bad pitch, which (Shaun) Lehmann hit out of here. Other than that Nix did a good job.”
Grant Cardwell improved his record to 2-1 with Sunday's victory. It was his first career SEC win.
On the offensive side it was Donaldson who came up big for the Tigers. His solo home run in the sixth inning gave the Tigers a two-run lead and then a two-out single in the seventh that scored a run proved to be the game-winner for the Tigers. Slater said Sunday’s pitcher was a good match-up for Donaldson and he made the Wildcats pay.
“That guy was a real good match for Donaldson,” Slater said. “Kind of like the guy from Arkansas. That’s the kind of guy Josh is going to do that to because if Josh is going to hit a home run it’s going to be to the pull side on a guy running the ball in on him. He jumped all over that and the ball got out of here in two seconds and sprinted around the bases the way he’s supposed to. He did a good job.”
Auburn got on the board first thanks to some production out of the top of the lineup. Tyler Johnstone, who had just one hit on the weekend, singled to open the game and center fielder Clete Thomas followed with a single of his own to put the pressure on Albers. Facing Bell, Albers was a little too cautious and walked him to load the bases with nobody out. Unfortunately for the Tigers they could only get one run out of the inning as Karl Amonite popped out to the shortstop before a Jeff Boutwell ground ball out scored Johnstone with the game’s first run.
Mullins escaped trouble in the first inning after loading the bases with two outs, but he would not be as fortunate in the second. With one out in the inning Shaun Lehmann was hit by a pitch to get the Wildcat inning going and remained there following a fly ball out for the second out of the inning. Then it appeared the inning would be over as Mullins caught Lehmann leaning from first, but the throw from Amonite to Philip Stringer at shortstop was dropped and he was safe at second. It proved to be a big error as back-to-back walks loaded the bases before Mullins hit Billy Grace with a pitch to push across the tying run.
The Tigers answered back in the top of the third and once again the top of the order did the damage. Leading off Thomas singled up the middle for his second hit in as many trips. Auburn’s hottest hitter, Bell followed with a long double into the gap in right-center field for a double to score Thomas and put the Tigers back in front 2-1. That would be all for the Tigers though as Bell was retired on a deflected ball at third moments later to kill the momentum.
In just his seventh appearance of the season Cardwell would make the lead stand as he carved up the Wildcats for the next three innings and gave the Tigers a shot for some insurance runs. Auburn would get one in the top of the sixth thanks to the long ball as Josh Donaldson hit the first pitch of the inning over the left field wall for his second home run of the season. It wouldn’t be the last the Wildcats heard from Donaldson as his two-out single in the seventh scored Bell from third with Auburn’s fourth run of the game.
The score would remain that way until the eighth inning when the Wildcats cut into the Auburn lead off Nix. After the Tigers left the bases loaded in the top of the inning to make the total left on base 13 for the day, Kentucky used the long ball to get back into the game quickly. Leading off the inning John Shelby hit a slow roller just under Donaldson’s glove at third base and reached on the error to give his team some life. Following a ground ball out that moved him to second, Shelby watched as Lehmann bombed a home run over the left field wall for a two-run shot to make it 4-3 Tigers heading to the ninth.
Things were far from over on this day as the red-hot Michael Bertram doubled with two outs and nobody on in the ninth inning brought Kevin Caldwell to the plate with the chance to tie or win the game for the Wildcats. Getting ahead in the count, Nix got Caldwell to fly out to Bruce Edwards in center field for the final out of the game.
Auburn returns to action next weekend for a big three-game series against SEC leader Florida at Plainsman Park. Game times for the weekend are 7 p.m. on Friday, 4 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday.