In the end, a pitchers’ duel was decided by two brief offensive explosions.
The Alabama Crimson Tide (26-24, 9-16 SEC) took the first game of the weekend series 4-2 behind two solo ninth-inning home runs from Chance Vincent and Will Haynie.
Vincent and Haynie, the Tide’s eight and nine-hole hitters, entered the game batting .228 and .171 respectively. Their towering solo homers provided a decisive, if not surprising ending to the game.
“The two home runs were, to be quite honest with you, very surprising,” coach Sunny Golloway said. “This is where that mental toughness is going to come into play.”
Auburn (32-18, 12-13 SEC) hopped on Alabama starter Taylor Guilbeau for a run in the first inning, and they held that lead behind six innings of one-hit baseball from starter Cole Lipscomb.
The Tigers had an opportunity to expand their lead with runners on second and third and no outs, but were unable to push either of the runners across.
“Bottom of the sixth inning was really key,” Golloway said. “The way Melvin (Gray) ran to get into third base and let Anfernee (Grier) get to second was really big. We’ve got to be able to score there.”
The Crimson Tide pounced on Lipscomb in the seventh for two runs during a span of five consecutive hits, the first of which came when left fielder Bo Decker struggled to recover a fly ball that rolled under a bench.
Auburn would tie it in the bottom of the seventh when Gray singled to right field. Then, with runners on second and third and another opportunity to take the lead, Grier struck out looking to end the threat.
“Our guys are learning that sometimes when you don’t score runs when you have a great opportunity like that, you swing the momentum to them by what they do defensively,” Golloway said.
The Tigers stranded nine runners on the basepaths Friday night, the majority of which came in the final four innings of the game.
The missed opportunities proved fatal in the ninth, when Vincent and Haynie pulverized two pitches off reliever Trey Wingenter to push the Crimson Tide ahead.
Auburn will try to get back on the winning track Saturday, May 9, in Plainsman Park. First pitch is scheduled for 3 p.m. Golloway said he hopes his team can bounce back “emotionally” from a tough loss.
“We entered the series trying to win the series so that we will have a chance to host at Florida,” Golloway said. “I don’t want us to be emotionally drained over this. That’s my concern with this team.”