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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Long-awaited big inning helps Auburn avoid weekend sweep against Arizona State

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn was on the cusp of a big inning all weekend, but because of rotten luck, bad baserunning or poor situational hitting repeatedly failed to strike it big.

The No. 23 Tigers finally broke through in their last chance, scoring four runs in the eighth inning Sunday to rally for a 10-8 win against No. 7 Arizona State and avoid a three-game sweep at Plainsman Park.

“It seemed like every potential big inning we had they just shut us down and we didn’t get the breaks,” Auburn shortstop Casey McElroy said. “It really felt nice to finally have that one inning where we got a couple breaks and the balls fell in.”

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Auburn (11-5) got a monkey off its back in its biggest non-conference test of the season. The Tigers had lost five straight to the Sun Devils in the last two years, despite leading in every game.

“I think it was a real important team win,” Auburn coach John Pawlowski said. “It was just what the doctor ordered today.”

Arizona State (11-3) used a four-run seventh to take an 8-6 lead, chasing Auburn starter Derek Varnadore, who gave up six runs on five hits in six-plus innings.

But The Tigers rallied in the eighth. Jay Gonzalez and Justin Fradejas drew walks to put runners on first and second with two outs for McElroy, who helped kill a potential rally an inning earlier by getting caught in a rundown between third and home.

ASU lefty Mitchell Lambson (3-2) tried to get a fastball past him on the first pitch, but McElroy lined it into the left field corner, just inside the foul line. Gonzalez and Fradejas scored to tie the game at 8.

Dan Gamache batted next, lofting a high fly ball to left that the wind carried to the base of the wall. ASU left fielder Matt Newman jumped and appeared to catch it at the base of the fence, but he lost control of it as he fell to the ground.

McElroy came around to score as the umpires furiously signaled that the play was still alive.

“I thought he caught it,” said Gamache, who was 7-for-14 with 9 RBIs in the series. “I thought it got blown up a little bit and was an easy fly ball, but the wind took it and I got lucky.”

Wes Gilmer added an RBI single to make it 10-8 Auburn. It was the first time the Tigers scored more than two runs in an inning all weekend.

“The first two games we just kind of came up empty-handed, but we were right there until the end,” said McElroy, who was 3-for-5 with three RBIs. “And this game we knew it was going to be another dogfight and this one we just kept believing and coach kept using the word magic.”

Zach Blatt (1-1), who entered the day with an 8.31 ERA in three appearances, pitched two perfect innings to close out the game, a much-needed boost both personally and for a bullpen that struggled to hold leads all weekend.

Auburn returns to action Tuesday in a non-conference game against Alabama in the Capital City Classic at Riverwalk Stadium in Montgomery. First pitch is 8 p.m. ET.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Andy, I followed the ASU games on a couple of the blogs and seems AU made lots of mental errors in addition to the ones that show up in the stats. Saw them play in Charleston last weekend and same thing. What's going on with the coaching?

Andy Bitter said...

Think it's still a pretty young team with some players growing into roles. There's not the experience that last year's team had. That might explain some of the mental mistakes.

Aubiester said...

As the season goes on they will get better. Our record was also 11-5 after the ASU series last season..

Tar Heel Tiger said...

thanks for the great bezball coverage, Mr Bitter.