Behind strong defense and relief pitching from the bullpen, No. 20 Auburn baseball won 3-2 in a tight matchup with rival Alabama.
Mason Barnett got the start on the mound, replacing usual-starter Hayden Mullins who suffered a forearm injury at Tennessee. Barnett went 5.1 innings, giving up five hits and striking out four before slipping up and allowing Alabama’s only two runs of the night.
“Barnett was good until he wasn’t. Both starters got chased at the end of their outings,” said head coach Butch Thompson. “That’s a really nice job for Barnett, filling in twice for us. He’s been starting all year. It’s really nice for him to not act like anything’s different than any start.”
Auburn finished the day with the three runs, seven hits and no errors. Alabama had seven hits of their own and a single error.
“We got three double plays. [Blake] Rambusch made some plays. There’s some athleticism on Alabama’s team,” Thompson said. “It’s nice to win a pitching-defense game.”
With a slow offensive start for both teams, Auburn finally opened up the scoring in the bottom of the fifth inning. Brody Moore singled and two batters later, Cole Foster stepped to the plate and singled to score Moore.
Blake Rambusch doubled right after, scoring Foster despite a collision with the Tide catcher Dominic Tamez. With Auburn now up by two runs, the game paused briefly to allow Will Portera to replace Tamez. Foster would later be replaced by Garrett Farquhar at second base, apparently due to pain from that same collision.
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In the sixth inning, Barnett’s night came to an end. He gave up a two-run home run and followed that with a single. Freshman John Armstrong came in as relief and pitched 2.2 scoreless innings, which was enough to earn his first career win.
“He was in the garage. Changed a lot of things,” Thompson said. “He was able to really center himself, set in and he is just directly working to the plate. More efficient, absolutely more direct at gathering energy and delivering in a straight line.”
Armstrong gave up just one hit and struck out three in essential innings that kept the Tigers from exhausting their bullpen early. With Mullins out and Blake Burkhalter easing back into the lineup, this should set the pitching staff up well for games two and three.
“I was working a lot on a few different things. Maybe not that big a moment, but I definitely saw myself pitching in future games. I’ve been working hard on a lot of little things,” Armstrong said. “The most important part is that we won, so I was able to help my team out. Put up a couple zeroes and was able to hold them to no runs.”
Auburn answered the blast quickly and capitalized on some Bama mistakes. Hit by a pitch, Bobby Peirce walked and stole second. Brooks Carlson came in clutch with a double down the right field line that slipped past the first baseman, getting Peirce home to score the winning run.
“I was just trying to get a ball hit to the right side and get the guy over,” Carlson said. “I’ve got to try to stay to the right side. If I don’t, I’ll spin off big time. Brooks isn’t any good when he spins off. I was just trying to help my team right there.”
The Tigers did have a scoring opportunity in the seventh as the top of the order came back through, but with the bases loaded, Peirce did not have an answer. Those three batters accounted for half of those Auburn left stranded through the game.
Burkhalter had a slight injury at Tennessee but had the opportunity to return against Troy for the midweek game, pitching two innings and settling back into the groove. He pitched the ninth against Alabama, striking out two and allowing just one hit to lock down the win.
“It’s fun. That’s our whole goal as a pitching staff,” Armstrong said. “Get it over to [Burkhalter]. That’s what I was trying to do and have him a clean inning in the ninth.”
Next up, the Tigers and Tide face off on Saturday in a 2 p.m. game that will likely be a scorcher compared to Friday’s moderate temperatures. Game two will air on the SEC Network.
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