Auburn, Ala.--Redshirt freshman third baseman David Cunningham had two hits and scored two runs to lead the Auburn Tigers to a 6-5 win over VMI and a series sweep against the Keydets. The victory improves Auburn to 10-4 overall while VMI falls to 4-7.
With freshman second baseman Justin Hargett out with a sprained ankle, Coach Tommy Slater moved third baseman Joseph Sanders to second and inserted Cunningham into the starting lineup. The move paid off as Sanders added two hits as well along with freshman designated hitter Kevin Patterson as Auburn’s offense once again got production up and down the order in the win.
“Joseph did a lot at second base through the fall and even in the preseason,” Slater said. “Cunningham has done a nice job. He’s continued working and getting after it. That’s the great thing. You never know when you’re opportunity is going to come and we talk to our guys about that. David got his yesterday and again today and he played very, very well, which is always exciting to see for all the hard work these kids put in.”
Freshman designated hitter Kevin Patterson had two hits and scored a run for the Tigers.
Missing all of last season after being forced to undergo back surgery, Cunningham came on in the second inning of Saturday’s game and played well, but it was Sunday that may have been his coming out party. Making several nice plays in the field and adding two extra-base hits, Cunningham’s play gives the Tigers another solid contributor to have in the lineup and he said it’s just nice to be back on the field and contributing.
“It’s really unfortunate about Hargett, but it has been a lot of fun,” Cunningham said. “We’re just trying to get some wins and I’m trying to do my job.
“It’s a blast,” he added. “I got to learn a lot last year by watching the games and getting experience, but it’s definitely a lot more fun playing than watching.”
On the mound Scott Shuman earned his second win of the season as he allowed three earned runs on five hits in five innings. Relievers Michael Hurst, Taylor Thompson and Evan Crawford all pitched scoreless innings while Bryan Woodall gets his third save despite giving up two runs on three hits in the ninth helped by the only Auburn error of the day.
Sunday’s game didn’t start out well for the Tigers as VMI came out swinging in the second inning against Shuman. Leading off the inning, third baseman Tanner Biagini lifted a solo home run over the wall in left field to make it 1-0 Keydets. Justin Topping followed with a sharp single to right field to bring Jordan Ballard to the plate. Entering the game with just one home run and one RBI on the season, Ballard hit a bomb to left field for a home run of his own. Just like that Auburn was behind for the first time on the weekend.
The Tigers began to chip away at the lead in the bottom of the second as Patterson led off with a single to right field. After Brian Fletcher was hit by a pitch, an error by Ryan Barefoot at short allowed Patterson to score and moved Fletcher around to third. Tony Caldwell then hit into a double play, but Fletcher scored to cut the VMI lead to 3-2 heading to the third.
It took just one swing of the bat for the Tigers to draw even in the third as freshman first baseman Hunter Morris turned on an inside pitch and drove it over the K Corner in right field for his third home run of the season. With the game now tied Auburn went back to work in the fifth as a double by Bianucci was followed with a two-out Sanders single to make it 4-3 Auburn.
Sophomore Scott Shuman gave up three runs in the second, but settled down to pitch well for the day.
The Tigers added a single run in the sixth as Cunningham led off the inning with a double to left field and later scored on a wild pitch. With the bullpen cruising, Auburn added what would be a big insurance run in the bottom of the eighth. With one out Ben Jones singled, but was picked off with Cunningham at the plate. Not conceding the inning, Cunningham drilled a triple to center field to keep the inning alive. Catcher Ryan Jenkins followed with a double to score Cunningham and put Auburn in front 6-3.
VMI came back to make things interesting in the ninth off Woodall thanks to some questionable defense by the Tigers. With two outs and nobody on Biagini singled to keep the Keydets alive. Pinch hitter Thane Smith then singled as well to bring the tying run to the plate in Ballard. Getting down 0-2, he fought off a Woodall pitch and lifted it just over the head of Morris at first base.
Getting a glove on the ball, Morris held the Ballard to a single, but Biagini scored to cut the lead to 6-4. Pinch hitter Graham Sullivan followed with a ground ball that Sanders booted at second. Smith scored on the play, but that would be all as Woodall struck out David Lottman to end the threat and complete the sweep for Auburn.
The Tigers return to action Tuesday and Wednesday when they take on Appalachian State in a two-game series at Plainsman Park. Game times for both are scheduled for 6 p.m. with Luke Greinke tentatively scheduled to pitch on Tuesday night.
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On the injury front second baseman Justin Hargett sprained his ankle going back to the first base bag in the first inning of Saturday’s game. Despite stealing a base and later scoring a run, Hargett couldn’t return to the game because of swelling. Slater said he’s not certain whether Hargett will be available or not for Auburn’s SEC opener at Florida this coming weekend.
“Hargett sprained his ankle in the first inning yesterday and it’s pretty swollen,” Slater said. “We’ll see what happens going into the weekend as to whether he’ll be able to play or not. We’ll probably carry him with us and see how it goes.”
Another injury update, this one for Auburn ace Paul Burnside. Slater said on Sunday that Burnside threw his third bullpen since returning from a broken collarbone. He still hasn’t topped the 30-pitch plateau, but Slater said they’re hoping to get him back in a game in a few weeks.
Slater said right now the Tigers are leaning to a weekend rotation of Shuman, Cory Luckie and Grant Dayton in some order, although he noted that they’ll make a final decision on that sometime this week.