Auburn continued its success against Little Rock with a 6-0 shutout of the Trojans on Saturday.
Mason Barnett got the start and subsequently the win for the Tigers, pitching seven innings and allowing zero runs.
“Mason is continuing to grow and I see better and better outing by outing,” said head coach Butch Thompson. “He’s still got some work to do from the windup, there’s still work to do all the time, but he buckled down in the stretch and made pitches and will continue.”
The game opened with a rocky first inning, but Auburn kept things under control with a double play and strikeout by Barnett to put Little Rock away for the inning.
“Having those double plays really helped," Barnett said. "It kind of makes the game go a little bit faster and you keep your rhythm.
The Trojans put up a fight defensively in the bottom of the first, catching an Auburn foul ball for the first out, and then a Steven Williams fly to center field was caught for the second. The third out came as Ryan Bliss tried to steal second, but the Tigers' offense was not denied for long.
Auburn’s first scoring opportunity came from an error by the Little Rock shortstop in the bottom of the second, allowing Rankin Woley to get on base, followed by a single from Tyler Miller that pushed Woley to third. Cam Hill’s at-bat brought a hit that ended in Miller being tagged out at second, but it allowed Woley to come home and put the Tigers on the board.
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It was slow going from there, with no additional runs for either team until the bottom of the seventh inning. Barnett had nine strikeouts through the top of the seventh, which was the end of his night and a season-high in strikeouts and innings pitched.
“Offense was a little slow, but I think right now with the consistency I’ve seen from our offense, I want to give some credit to the starter from Little Rock,” Thompson said. “I’ll give him a little bit of credit. We did have a couple lead-off hits to start innings, and got on, and then the next was…hit hard, but then we got nothing for it. We just weren’t able to build anything.”
In the bottom of the seventh, a Brody Moore double allowed Bryson Ware to score and build some late-game momentum for the Tigers. Little Rock changed pitchers after this run, the first of many pitching changes for the Trojans.
Kason Howell's hit to first base allowed Moore to round home and push the Auburn lead to three. Later in the inning, Bliss faced a full count and bounced a ball off the left-field wall, earning a double and sending both Josh Hall and Howell to home base.
Little Rock elected to make another pitching change.
As the game went into the eighth inning, Auburn brought in Blake Burkhalter to close behind Barnett’s nine strikeouts.
“I think it’s a good little feather in the hat any time one of these young guys finishes a ball game for us,” Thompson said.
A single by Hill in the bottom of the eighth bounced past the Little Rock shortstop, and Woley capitalized on the distraction, tacking on another Auburn run and recording his second of the game.
Auburn had a major opportunity at the end of the eighth when two walks followed Hill’s single. Hall stepped to the plate with the bases loaded, but Little Rock had just made a pitching change, and Hall struck out swinging.
Burkhalter finished the job in the ninth and pushed the Tigers' total strikeouts to 13.
Auburn has not swept a series since its opening games against Presbyterian the weekend of February 19, so two successful games against Little Rock have brought hope after a difficult pair of losses to Boston College last weekend.
“We’ve been chasing, trying to win a series for the last couple of weeks, so it’s nice to get back and win a series, and hopefully there’s optimism and a goal of trying to come out and try to win the series tomorrow,” Thompson said.
The Tigers will attempt the series sweep at Plainsman Park on Sunday at 1 p.m. CST. The game will be broadcast on SEC Network-plus.
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