It took seven Auburn pitchers and extra innings, but Tyler Miller was the hero for the Tigers with his walk-off single in the bottom of the 10th. With the 8-7 win over Jacksonville State on Wednesday, it’s the first time the Tigers have won consecutive games in over a month.
Auburn is now 23-17 all-time against Jacksonville State and looks to carry momentum from the two-midweek victories into its upcoming series with Florida.
“I think that showed us how we can win in all fashions of the game,” said Auburn shortstop Ryan Bliss. “Last night, we were up all game. Tonight we had to come back and win in extras. I think we can use both of these games to learn and keep that momentum going into this weekend.”
Six different pitchers took the mound after the Auburn starter, Mason Barnett, was pulled following the first inning.
Barnett wasn’t pulled out of the game for lack of solid performance, though. The sophomore pitched a 1-2-3 first inning, striking out one and forcing two groundouts.
It was about making some adjustments to Barnett’s pitches, something that’s difficult to do midway through the season. In his previous three outings before Wednesday, the 6-foot-1 pitcher had not made it through two innings without allowing a run.
Pitching an inning on Wednesday allowed Barnett to apply what he’s been working on lately to a true game situation.
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“I wanted him to go out there and throw a clean inning,” said head coach Butch Thompson. “Probably the best way to get [Barnett] ready for the weekend again is to go out there, get him feeling good about an inning and see if something really works. I hope that’s something that can replace the last outing and go into the weekend in better shape.”
Holding a 1-0 lead after a two-out rally in the first inning, a pair of Auburn relievers ran into some trouble in the second and third innings.
Brooks Fuller and Seb Thomas combined to pitch 1.2 innings following Barnett’s departure, allowing five runs in as many hits. It put the Tigers in an early hole, with the Gamecocks taking a 5-1 lead into the bottom of the third.
Rankin Woley cut the deficit to three with a solo home run in the third. He’s now hit home runs in consecutive games, after he hit a 2-run home run in Tuesday’s win over Samford, also in the third inning. Woley finished the day 2-for-4 with a home run and a double.
The bats were quiet for both teams until the bottom of the sixth when Auburn put up a three-spot in the frame.
Judd Ward tripled in Kason Howell and scored himself when the throw to third skipped into the Auburn dugout. Miller knocked in the tying run on his RBI single, bringing the game even.
“It’s a huge boost of confidence,” Miller said. “Knowing that we could be down four, five, six, maybe even seven runs, and we have the offensive power to come back. For the most part, every time we’ve been down, we’ve been in every game. This time we just found a way to squeak it out and get the win.”
With a near-depleted bullpen, Thompson called on catcher Nate LaRue to take the mound. LaRue had pitched in high school, but he had never pitched at the collegiate level before Wednesday night.
The sophomore faced the minimum amount of batters in the seventh. And after the Tigers scored two runs in the bottom of the frame off of a Bliss double, LaRue had a chance to be the winning pitcher.
However, Jacksonville State hit solo home runs to lead off both the eighth and ninth inning, tying the game and sending the game to extras.
Ward picked up his second base hit of the night in the bottom of the 10th, a leadoff double. He moved to third on Ryan Dyal’s sacrifice bunt before scoring on Miller’s walk-off single to left field.
Miller led the team in hits, going 3-for-6 with a pair of RBI.
Auburn is now 4-10 in one-run games on the season.
“We haven’t had a walk-off win since the third game of Presbyterian in our very first series,” Miller said. “It’s nice to be on the receiving end of a walk-off instead of walking back to the dugout if somebody walks us off. It’s just a huge momentum boost.”
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