MONTGOMERY – On a cold night at Riverwalk Stadium, Auburn left-hander Conner Kendrick was too hot for Alabama to handle.
Junior college transfer Conner Kendrick has yet to give up a run this season/Todd Van Emst
Kendrick got the call to the mound with nobody out in the fourth inning and did what he has done every time he’s been called on this season. He dominated, pitching six hitless innings, striking out eight and walking one as Auburn beat Alabama 6-3 to win its fifth consecutive Capital City Classic.
Auburn improved to 9-3 on the season and plays its final pre-conference series starting Friday against Brown at Plainsman Park. Alabama fell to 8-4. Kendrick got his first Auburn win.
Kendrick started his career at Georgia Tech before transferring to Northwest Florida State College and finally to Auburn last fall. A native of Gulf Shores, he knew what it meant to pitch against Alabama. And the crowd of 6,911 drove him on.
“It was definitely a blast,” Kendrick said. “This is the biggest crowd I’ve ever pitched in front of. It was something else.”
Kendrick has been something else from the start of this season. He’s pitched 16 1/3 innings this season and has given up four hits and no runs. He has walked five and struck out 22.
“I lack for words the job that Conner Kendrick did,” Auburn coach John Pawlowski said. “What a masterful performance.”
Kendrick was voted the game’s Most Valuable Player award.
In the eighth, after Kendrick walked the leadoff hitter, Pawlowski went to the mound to talk to Kendrick, who told him he wanted to stay in the game.
“As you progress through the season, you learn more and more about your players and the things they can do and the things they can handle,” Pawlowski said. “I went out there in the eighth inning. I asked him what he had left in the tank. He said ‘I’m good to go.’”
On a night when temperatures dipped into the low 40’s, both teams struggled in the field and at bat. Auburn finished with five hits and Alabama with three.
After Auburn took a 1-0 lead in the top of the fourth, Alabama answered with three in the bottom of the fourth with the help of errors by shortstop Dan Glevenyak and third baseman Damek Tomscha. But in the bottom of the fourth, Alabama made two errors as Auburn scored three runs to reclaim the lead at 4-3.
It stayed there until the top of the ninth when Garrett Cooper’s two-out, two-run single gave the Tigers some breathing room. Cooper lined a two-strike pitched into left field of Justin Kamplain, the fourth Alabama pitcher.
“My first at-bat I didn’t come through with the bases loaded,” Cooper said. “He left a hanging slider and all I tried to do was put the bat on the ball.”
Pawlowski said he was proud of the way the Tigers responded to adversity.
“It’s always exciting to come down here and play in front of a great crowd,” he said. “We certainly had great support here again tonight. I thought our team responded. We made some mistakes, but when we got down 3-1 our team was very resilient. They responded and came back. We found a way to win.”
Proceeds from the game went to support childhood cancer research. Numerous players and coaches on both teams shaved their heads before the game in support of the cause.
“I probably feel better than I look,” Pawlowski said as he lifted his cap. “I’m really proud of our team, certainly both teams, for what they did to try to help some child. We all can lend a hand and make a difference.”
Dillon Ortman got the start on the mound for Auburn and was charged with all three Alabama runs, two of them earned. In three innings, he gave up three hits, walked three and struck out two.