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Resurgent Tigers win series opener

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Garrett Cooper hit leadoff home runs in the fourth and sixth innings and Conner Kendrick pitched into the ninth inning to lead Auburn’s baseball team to a 3-1 victory over Missouri on Friday night in the first game of a three-game series at Taylor Stadium.

Garrett Cooper was the first Auburn player to have a two-homer run game since 2010.

Auburn, continuing its comeback from an 0-7 Southeastern Conference start, improved to 25-16 overall and 7-12 in the SEC. Missouri sagged to 13-24 and 5-14.

Cooper, who came in as the team leader with four home runs, took a 1-0 Rob Zastryzny offering over the wall in center in the fourth and an 0-2 pitch out to left for Auburn’s first two-homer game by an individual since Brian Fletcher hit two in the 18-4, SEC West-clinching win at Ole Miss on May 21, 2010.

“The fastball was up, and I put a good swing on it,” Cooper said of his fourth-inning shot. “(In the sixth) he left the 0-2 curveball in the middle of the plate and I kind of got fooled, but I kept my hands back and luckily got barrel on it.”

The two home runs made a winner out of Kendrick (3-2), who went a career-long 8 1/3 innings and tied his career-high with eight strikeouts. With the win, he became the first Auburn starting pitcher other than Michael O’Neal to pick up a win since Rocky McCord got the win over Brown on March 10.

“When I was down on some pitches I could pick myself back up with a little off-speed and that kept the hitters off balance a little bit,” Kendrick said. “I threw some good curveballs tonight but my go-to pitch was my change-up.”

Auburn coach John Pawlowski said Kendrick made big pitches when he needed them.

“Conner did an outstanding job,” Pawlowski said. “He has a way to maneuver out of some trouble. He put himself into some trouble situations, but he made some really big pitches. When he needs to make a really big pitch he has three weapons to use. He has a fastball, a breaking ball and a change-up. I thought he did an outstanding job with some help by our defense.”

Terrance Dedrick earned his team-leading fifth save, inducing a 6-3 double-play from pinch hitter Scott Sommerfeld, the only hitter he faced, to end the game.

Zastryzny took the loss despite striking out a season-high 11 in eight innings. He was charged with all three Auburn runs on eight hits and three walks.

With the win, the Auburn moved into a tie for 10th in the overall standings with Texas A&M. The Tigers hold the tiebreaker over the Aggies because they won a series in College Station. The top 12 teams advance to the SEC Tournament.

Patrick Savage’s first inning double gave Auburn a 1-0 lead. Cullen Wacker and Cooper had two-out singles, setting the stage for Savage.

Missouri tied it at 1-1 in the bottom of the second on Keaton Steele’s windblown home run that barely cleared the left field fence.

Catcher Blake Austin had his 35th caught stealing by in Missouri’s fourth, tying Bobby Huddleston (2000-03) for fourth in Auburn history. He also picked a man off first in Missouri’s half of the third with the bases loaded.

Auburn will try to clinch the series in today’s game, which starts at 2 p.m.. O’Neal (8-2) will get the starting nod for Auburn. Missouri will throw right-hander Brett Graves (0-5).

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