AUBURN — In a season filled with highs and lows, Auburn(25-18-1, 9-12 SEC) baseball has taken its second straight SEC weekend series, pulling off the upset over No. 2 South Carolina(35-8, 14-6 SEC) in Columbia. The Tigers won the first two games, 8-3 and 9-5, before blowing a 5-2 lead in the series finale and falling 7-8.
“Great battle, all three games,” Thompson added. “If we’ll battle that way, like we did last week, if we battle like that, we’ll take whatever happens results-wise. If we can keep the process and energy that will equal our true results.”
It was a true team effort throughout the weekend, and it started with Friday's big 8-3 win led by the trio of Tommy Vail, Tanner Bauman and Will Cannon who kept the Gamecock attack in check.
Vail got the start, going five innings and earning seven strikeouts while giving up two earned runs. Bauman and Cannon closed the contest with five hits over the next four innings.
“I knew I had to go as deep as I could, trust the guys behind me and trust the bullpen,” Vail said. “Luckily, I was able to give us a couple more good innings and get us in position to win. I was able to get some swings and misses up in the zone. I knew the defense was going to play well behind me. I knew I could fill it up and let them work.”
On the offensive end, Auburn's bats were hot against starter Will Sanders, earning eight runs on eight hits, led by a pair of RBIs from Copper McMurray and a home run from Cole Foster, the first of several Tiger homers in the series. Foster's home run gave Auburn a 3-1 lead in the fourth after the game was tied 1-1 following the first inning.
Saturday's game came around, and Auburn's second bullpen rotation struggled to stop the Gamecocks, with all three pitchers giving up at least one run. However, the Tigers' bats exploded to the tune of four home runs, including a solo home run from McMurray that sealed the 9-5 win in the top of the ninth.
McMurray's ninth-inning long ball came after four unanswered runs from South Carolina closed a seven-run deficit to just three, will all four runs coming from Messina. McMurray also had a two-RBI round-tripper in the top of the fifth that added to Auburn's lead before South Carolina went on the run.
“To open the day with a four-spot in the first is always big,” McMurray said. “Our pitching staff has come out and been really good for us and making it easy on the offense. On that side of the ball, we think we can score however many runs at any given time. It’s just about playing a full game of clean baseball.”
While the pitching staff surrender five runs, the group gave up just six hits in total while landing 11 strikeouts, with Konner Copeland earning four and the win for the Tigers.
Outside of McMurray's offense, a pair of second-inning solo home runs from Bobby Peirce and Nate LaRue allowed Auburn to jump out to a 6-0 lead after Foster and Kason Howell scored a pair of two-RBI singles in the first inning.
“Two days in a row we scored in the first inning and really set a tone,” head coach Butch Thompson said. “It got us into the ballgame, and we did even more today in the first. You knew they’d make a rally, so we had to keep playing.”
With the series clinched, Auburn entered Sunday looking for the sweep, but the No. 2 Gamecocks showed why they are one of the top teams in the country in the closest game of the series. With four lead changes, the Gamecocks overcame a 4-0 deficit to take game three and avoid the sweep.
After hitting four home runs in game two, Auburn continued to find success at the plate with five home runs, with only one of the Tiger's seven runs not coming from a homer.
“I just thought the effort was tremendous,” head coach Butch Thompson said. “Bobby there in the ninth just kept us engaged and Ware gets a hit. It just felt like we kind of ran out of outs today instead of losing the ballgame because the competitive spirit was so good.”
The Tigers jumped out to a 4-0 lead after a fielder's choice allowed Chris Stanfield to score first before Bryson Ware and Foster rounded out the inning with the first two home runs of the game. South Carolina responded with two runs in the bottom of the first, but LaRue was there for his second home run of the series, bringing Auburn's lead back to 5-2.
The Gamecocks began to chip away and tied the contest after the fifth, but Ware immediately responded with his second home run of the day, this one being a solo shot. The Gamecocks secured a three-RBI home run of their own in the seventh, and Peirce attempted to kickstart the ninth-inning comeback with the second home run of the series, but Auburn could not find any more offense and dropped game three.
“This looked like a World Series team that we competed against. We just played the game well,” Thompson said. “I do think we were the hungrier team. Can we keep duplicating that with only three weeks to go? We should be able to, and it’ll be a requirement. Our staff, our coaches, and our players just absolutely did everything they could to be successful this weekend.”
Auburn will be back on the Plains next week for another top team in not just the SEC but the country, as No. 1 LSU(35-8, 15-5 SEC) comes to town for a weekend series.
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