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Austin's clutch hit rescues Tigers

AUBURN – As the ninth inning came at Plainsman Park on Wednesday night, Auburn’s baseball team was in a most uncomfortable position. The Tigers had one hit and were tied 1-1 with Alabama State. No Auburn varsity athletic team has lost to Alabama State. Ever.

Blake Austin made his only at-bat count Wednesday night at Plainsman Park.

After ace reliever Terrance Dedrick was forced into the game and struck out the final two ASU hitters in the top of the ninth, fortune finally smiled on the Tigers and they escaped with a 2-1 victory.

Garrett Cooper led off the inning with a walk. Damek Tomscha put down what was meant to be a sacrifice bunt, but pitcher Joseph Camacho slipped down and Tomscha was credited with a base hit. Bobby Andrews put down another attempted sacrifice, but Cooper was out at third base.

When head coach John Pawlowski called for Dedrick in the top of the ninth, he also inserted regular starter Blake Austin, who had not played, at catcher. And it was Austin’s time to bat.

Austin hammered a double off the wall in left field to score Sam Gilliken, running for Tomscha. Thus ended an uninspired night of Auburn baseball.

The Tigers improved to 20-13 going into this weekend’s crucial three-game series against Georgia at Plainsman Park. Alabama State fell to 19-17.

Five Auburn pitchers limited Alabama State to three hits and issue no walks. They struck out nine. Dedrick got the win to improve to 3-2.

Alabama State starter Matt Burnside, the brother of former Auburn pitcher Paul Burnside and an Auburn graduate, started and went three innings for Alabama State, where he is a graduate student. He walked five batters and hit one, handing Auburn a third-inning run on a bases-loaded walk. But he gave up no hits.

Not until Jordan Ebert shot a single to center off Armando Ruiz did Auburn get a hit. Alabama State pitchers retired 14 straight and 15 out of 16 after the bases-loaded walk.

Pawlowski went away from the lineup that won two of three at Texas A&M last weekend, starting Andrews in place of Jackson Burgreen in left, Hunter Kelley in place of Gilliken in right and Kody Ortman in place of Austin at catcher.

It almost backfired.

Pawlowski turned to Austin for defense with a runner on first and one out in the eighth. But it was at the plate that Austin came through.

“Blake certainly can throw,” Pawlowski said. “We felt like we needed to do something to help our defense. Blake came up in a big situation and came up with a huge hit for us.”

Ebert’s eighth-inning single extended his hitting streak to 10 games.

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