Auburn, Ala.—Sophomore catcher Blake Austin had three hits and a career-high five RBI to lead the Auburn Tigers to an 11-4 win over Tennessee Sunday at Plainsman Park to complete a sweep of the Vols. With the win Auburn improves to 25-19 overall and 10-11 in SEC play and finds itself right back in the hunt in the Southeastern Conference.
On the mound reliever Slade Smith picked up the win, allowing just one hit in three innings of work, while senior Derek Varnadore picked up the save after blowing away Tennessee the final two innings out of the bullpen.
Scoring just 36 runs in the previous nine conference games before this weekend, Auburn’s 11 runs on Sunday made 35 for the three-game series for the Tigers. Getting some quality work out of the bullpen after starter Trey Cochran-Gill lasted just one and two/thirds innings, Coach John Pawlowski said his team just continued to battle offensively and that was the difference.
“When we look back on this series two big things happened,” Pawlowski said. “On Friday night Varnadore came in and pitched three innings and saved our bullpen. Yesterday Cory Luckie came in and saved our bullpen. We figured if we got in a situation where we had to get in our bullpen early, which we did, Dillon Ortman, Slade Smith and Varny did an outstanding job. Then our offense got going a little bit and it was exciting to see.”
Austin was the leader of the offensive attack with three hits, including a two-run homer, and five RBI. For the weekend the catcher was 7-11 with 10 RBI. He said Sunday, much like the rest of the weekend, was about him feeling confident at the plate and the same goes for the entire team.
“Personally I’m seeing the ball well,” Austin said. “I think hitting is contagious. If everyone is hitting it’s kind of easier to hit. I think it’s more of a team thing than it is individually. It’s just a great weekend for us offensively and pitching-wise. Just all-around.”
In addition to Austin at the plate Cullen Wacker added three hits to give him seven for the final two games of the series. Creede Simpson and Jay Gonzalez both added two hits as the Tigers totaled 13 for the game.
After a scoreless first, Auburn starter Trey Cochran-Gill was unable to make it out of the second inning as Davis Morgan’s single put the pressure on early for the freshman. A sacrifice bunt moved the runner to second with .167 hitter Jake Rowland coming to the plate. Compounding his problems, Cochran-Gill uncorked his first wild pitch before he hit the batte to put runners on first and third for Chris Pierce.
The second wild pitch of the inning scored the first run of the game for the Vols as Morgan scored and Rowland moved to second with Pierce at the plate. He then singled to score Rowland for the 2-0 Tennessee lead. An error by first baseman Garrett Cooper on a pick-off attempt put the runner on second, but he was caught stealing for the second out. It proved to be big as a single by .170 hitter Ethan Bennett and a walk to Zach Luther brought Cochran-Gill’s day to an early end.
Coming on in relief, Dillon Ortman allowed a double to leadoff man Will Maddox to score a run and make it a three-run lead for the Vols. A fly ball brought the inning to a close, but the damage was done.
Facing Williams, who threw 56 pitches as Tennessee’s starter Friday night, Auburn got the offense rolling to start the bottom of the second as Wacker picked up where he left off on Saturday with a triple to the gap in right field. Following a Dan Glevenyak strikeout, Austin made contact on a half swing and the ball rolled down the first base line and into right field for a double. Wacker scored on the play and Austin advanced to third on an error by Pierce. Unfortunately that’s where he would remain as Gonzalez and Zach Alvord failed to get him across.
Tennessee got a run back in the third as Ortman walked Drew Steckenrider to open the inning and he would eventually score on a groundout to make it 4-1 Tennessee. Auburn would answer back however in the fourth thanks to the long ball, but not before getting a boost from Ryan Tella in the field. With a man on second and Zach Osborne at the plate Auburn looked like it would go down four as he hit a screaming liner to center field. Coming out of nowhere, Tella made a diving grab to give life to the Tigers.
“That sparked everyone in the dugout,” Austin said. “That kind of play, momentum in the dugout is big. It’s big offensively and defensively. The guy on the mound he sees that he’s pumped. We’re ready to go after that play.”
With one out in the bottom of the fourth an error by Osborne allowed Glevenyak to reach first base and bring Austin to the plate. On a roll, the sophomore hit a blast over the monster in left field for his second home run of the season. That cut the lead down to one and brought Gonzalez to the plate.
The Auburn right fielder managed to do some damage of his own as his triple to left-center put a runner on third with less than two outs for the second time in the game. Just like the first time though Auburn would be unable to push him across. Going on contact with the infield in, Gonzalez was cut down easily at the plate after an Alvord ground ball to end the threat. Now back to within one run, the Tigers turned to Smith on the mound to keep them in the game.
Jay Gonzalez celebrates with first base coach Ty Megahee after his two-run single on Sunday.
Down 4-3 in the bottom of the fifth the Tigers finally put an inning together with plenty of help from Tennessee. Reliever Carter Watson came in and immediately walked Tella to lead off the inning. Following a fly ball he walked Cooper and one out later another walk to Glevenyak loaded the bases with two outs for Austin.
A slow roller to Osborne at shortstop was fielded in the hole by the senior, but instead of throwing to first he tried to cut down Glevenyak at second. Hustling all the way, Auburn’s shortstop beat the throw to allow Tella to score the tying run. Gonzalez then singled to left field to score both Cooper and Glevenyak and give the Tigers a 6-4 lead.
Tennessee threatened in the seventh as number nine hitter Zach Luther reached on an infield single to start the inning off for the Vols. A pair of ground ball outs moved him around to third and brought the powerful Steckenrider to the plate. On in relief on the mound for the Vols, the left-hander watched strike three to end the inning.
With some momentum the Tigers struck again in the bottom of the seventh as Wacker led off with a single to left field. Trying to stretch it to a double, he was easily beaten to the bag by the throw of Rowland in left, but Maddox missed the ball to allow Wacker to slide safely in at second. A sacrifice bunt by Glevenyak moved the runner to third and Austin added to his day with a sacrifice fly to right field. That made it 7-4 Auburn and brought Varnadore in to try to finish things off.
Getting through the eighth inning on just 12 pitches, the senior got the Tigers back to the plate and Alvord didn’t disappoint as he drove a pitch out of the park for his fifth homer of the season to lead off the inning. That made it 8-4 and Bobby Andrews followed with a double off the wall in left to keep it going. Moving to third on a sacrifice bunt by Tella, Andrews walked home as Simpson singled to left for the ninth run of the game for the Tigers.
Auburn tacked on two more in the eighth on a two-run double by Wacker to get double figures and extend the lead to 11-4. Varnadore finished it off by blowing away Tennessee in the ninth inning for his first career save.
Auburn will return to action next weekend as the Tigers travel to Athens to face the Georgia Bulldogs.
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