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A spirit that is not afraid

Late-inning heroics elevate Auburn in walk-off win

In a 10-inning, back-and-forth affair, Auburn (25-12) walked off as winners over Alabama State on Tuesday night by a score of 6-5.

"It's just another game that we continued to fight back no matter the inning," said Auburn third baseman Blake Rambusch. "No matter what we're doing, I'd say it's our mindset we take into every game, no matter if it's a Tuesday or a Friday night. We're just going to go out and fight no matter what."

Auburn got on the board first when Sonny DiChiara scorched a RBI double into left-center, but 15 runners left on base held Auburn back from taking this game by storm. The offense got the bases loaded in both the third and fourth innings and got nothing out of it.

Mason Barnett started on the mound for the Tigers. Striking the first four batters he faced, he held the Hornets scoreless and hitless through three innings.

The top of the fourth is where Barnett ran into trouble. A swinging bunt that was perfectly placed by Corey King earned the first hit of the night for ASU, and another single from the next batter put runners on the corners before there was an out. 

However, Barnett minimized the damage, allowing only one run to cross the plate when the next batter grounded into a double play. He then fanned his sixth batter of the night to end the inning.

After two more strikeouts and another shut-down inning from Barnett in the top of the fifth, Bobby Pierce had had enough of Auburn stranding runners on base and launched his third triple of the year of the wall in right-center field to chase home Brooks Carlson, who reached on a leadoff single.

Pierce set an example, and Rambusch mimicked it pretty well. When a hit-by-pitch loaded the bases for the third straight inning, Auburn seized advantage of this opportunity, going up 4-1 on Rambusch's single that scored a pair of runners to give it a three-run inning.

In the sixth, Barnett was relieved by Jordan Armstrong, and ASU upped Auburn's three in the previous frame with four of its own. The Hornets caught on to Auburn's trend of loading the bases and went station-to-station with an error from second baseman Garrett Farquhar and two walks. 

Unlike Barnett, Armstrong was unable to gather his command and limit the damage, walking two more with the bases stacked to make it four straight free passes and surrendering a pair of runs. He then passing the ball to Chase Allsup with full basepaths and one out. 

Allsup, too, struggled to find the strike zone, walking his first batter to hand ASU another free run. After inducing a pop-up for the second out, he walked another to put ASU in the lead for the first time of the night. With a flout to right field, Allsup finally got out of the long-lasting sixth.

"We continue to have a ton of inconsistencies when we open up that bullpen, even trying some different people and trying to find something to get us going," said Auburn head coach Butch Thompson. "That was disappointing, those four runs [in one inning], and we chased it all night."

Leading off in the home half of the sixth, DiChiara slugged his team-leading 15th double of the season, and Auburn was immediately in business. However, third base was the farthest he went as he became the 11th runner the Tigers stranded in the game.

Following a sloppy act by the Auburn bullpen in the past inning, Carson Skipper skipped onto the mound and shut down the Hornets' bats with two consecutive scoreless innings to send the game to the bottom of the eighth with Auburn trailing by one. He only allowed one hit and struck out three in two innings of work. 

The key for him: no walks. Armstrong and Allsup combined to walk six on 45 pitch in one frame, but Skipper only needed 25 pitches to get six outs and keep the Tigers in contention.

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However, the Hornets quickly stole the momentum back in their favor in the eighth inning. After a one-out walk to DiChiara showed some promise for the Tigers, Carlson put one on the ground to the shortstop, which, after a heavy dose of reviews, resulted in a 6-4-3 double play.

Despite ASU's one-run advantage, the Tigers turned to their closer, Blake Burkhalter, for the top of the ninth. Following a lead-off single, he sat down three straight batters on strikes. Auburn had three outs to push across one run to extend the game.

Kicking off the inning, Auburn hit three balls in a row on a rope. The first of which Brody Moore hit right at the second baseman, and stumbling and falling to the ground, he made the pick and threw Moore out at first. After Pierce's liner found a gap up the middle for a single, Auburn sent three straight pinch hitters to the plate looking for a spark.

Cam Hill was productive in his lone plate appearance of the night, scorching the ball into shallow right field for a single. Next, Cole Foster's pinch hitting opportunity put the Tigers down to their final out with a strikeout. 

After Mike Bello prolonged the inning with a walk, the top of the order lined up once again and Rambusch was up once again with the bases loaded. Once again, he delivered.

Down to his last strike, Rambusch slapped a hard grounder back where it came from. It deflected off the pitcher and dribbled over to first base. By the time the pitcher recovered the ball, it was too late and everyone reached safely, moving station-to-station.

With the game then tied, Kason Howell struck out to end the threat and strand three more to send it to extra innings.

Building on his three strikeouts to end the ninth, Burkhalter returned to the mound for the 10th and produced a three-up-three-down frame with two more strikeouts to give Auburn a shot to walk off as winners in the home portion of the tenth. 

That they did, but not without getting down to its last out again. Following a Pierce single and Moore reaching on an error, LaRue hit a two-out bloop single that fell in shallow left field to chase home Pierce and give Auburn a walk-off win. 

With tonight's walk-off hit, Auburn has used game-ending plays to decide its last two contests: this one coming from the offensive side after Bryson Ware ended Sunday's game in dramatic fashion with a game-clinching outfield assist.

Outside of a four-run sixth inning for ASU, the pitching was the star of the show tonight. Skipper and Burkhalter's gutsy, multi-inning performances allowed an offense that struggled to produce to hang in the game and gave them the chance to pull out the late-inning victory.

Barnett also racked up eight Ks in his five-inning start to give the pitching staff 15 total strikeouts for the night. 

"He really rebounded from last week," Thompson said. "He came out firing on all cylinders. I thought Mason was tremendous tonight."

The trio of Barnett, Skipper and Burkhalter also had no walks as opposed to six issued by Armstrong and Allsup in the four-run breakout inning by ASU. Finishing out with two scoreless frames in the ninth and the 10th, Burkhalter earned the win to improve to 4-1 on the season.

"[Mason Barnett] gave us a good chance at the beginning of the game," Burkhalter said. "We had a little bit of trouble passing the baton, but then we got it to Skipper, and he settled things down. We got the win out of it so I'm excited."

Offensively, the Tigers outhit the Hornets 10-to-5, but that stat was negated by 15 men left on the basepaths.

Four guys had two-hit games for Auburn, but only three hits came with runners in scoring position and two of them came at the hands of Rambusch. In the end, that was enough, and three pinch hitters reached base in the late innings to elevate Auburn to the win.

With the Tuesday night victory, the Tigers are not done with their mid-week slate. They will continue their home-stand with a matchup with a hot Kennesaw State team in a make-up game tomorrow night at 6 p.m. CST before starting their weekend set with South Carolina on Friday in Plainsman Park.

"I'm thankful to get this one, and that helps, but it's going to be one of those weeks where we knew going into it how big of a week this is going to be," Thompson said. "We're walking away giving Alabama State credit. That's the best I've seen that club look when we've played them. They're hot and they were a handful tonight."

Noah Griffith | Assistant Sports Editor

Noah is a senior in journalism from Salem, Alabama. He joined the Plainsman in August of 2021 after transferring in from Southern Union Community College.

Twitter: @NoahGG01

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