HOOVER, Ala. — It all came down to two hits and steady pitching in Auburn’s 5-3 win over Tennessee on Day 1 of the SEC Tournament.
With the win, 8-seed Auburn moves on to the double elimination portion of the tournament and will face 1-seed Vanderbilt on Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. CST.
A big question for Auburn going into the tournament was whether its pitching staff could hold up with neither Tanner Burns nor Jack Owen available for Tuesday. Thus, Auburn turned to the combination of Elliott Anderson and Bailey Horn.
"I think Elliott Anderson was really good," said Auburn head coach Butch Thompson . "Got us off to a good start. I think his outing was shortened from just a command standpoint. He had a few walks but nonetheless, had six strikeouts, got us into the game very good. And then I thought Bailey Horn really almost got us to the finish line and just did a great job. I thought he shoved the ball in the strike zone. I thought he got better and better.”
Anderson’s game started off shaky after he allowed one run on two singles, a walk and a sacrifice fly. He settled in and pitched three scoreless innings after that. His offense backed him up and scored two runs in the bottom of the second on a double from Edouard Julien to give Anderson some breathing room.
In the fifth Anderson gave up a walk, threw two wild pitches to allow the runner to third and walked another batter. Will Morrison came into the game to face one batter, then Bailey Horn took the mound. Horn allowed the tying run to score on a wild pitch but finished out the inning with a groundout.
"I came in when it was a close game, 2-1 with runners in scoring position,” Horn said. “Elliot and Will did a great job keeping us in the ball game. I knew I had to come in and do the same and give our hitters a chance to win the game for us."
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Auburn didn’t let the tie last long. In the bottom half of the fifth Julien and Kason Howell singled. With Julien going from first to third on Howell’s hit, Judd Ward went up to the plate and laid down a bunt that allowed Julien to score to give Auburn back the lead.
Two innings later Ward got another big hit. With a runner on first, Ward homered to right to give Auburn the 5-2 lead.
“I wasn’t trying to do that, but I ran into one,” Ward said. “It was awesome. It’s a great feeling.”
For Ward, who is from Russellville, Alabama, being able to play a large part in his team’s success in start of the tournament is a special feeling.
"I’ve been watching this tournament since I was born," Ward said. "I love this tournament. Coming out here and competing in it and being able to be a part of it, it’s one of the best feelings in the world — especially with the atmosphere we brought tonight with all the fans, it was awesome."
Horn held the Volunteers at bay until the top of the ninth while his team added some insurance runs. He struck out six and allowed one run on one hit in four innings of work, earning the win.
After a pinch-hit solo homer from the Volunteers in the top of the ninth, Horn left the game, and Cody Greenhill came in to earn the save. With one out already recorded in the inning, Greenhill finished things up with a popout and a strikeout to secure the Auburn victory.
Auburn will face Vanderbilt on Wednesday. Vanderbilt swept the Tigers in the regular season, and the Commodores were 23-7 in conference play in the regular season. They won 18 of their last 19 games to close out the season.
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