AUBURN – As Garrett Cooper walked to the plate in the fifth inning Friday night at Plainsman Park, he was determined it wasn’t going to happen again. And it didn’t.
Hunter Kelley is greeted by his teammates after his first Auburn home run/Missy Hazeldine photo
Cooper, Auburn's senior first baseman, drove the first pitch he saw from Jon Keller over the centerfield fence for a three-run homer and Auburn went on to beat Alabama 6-3.
Thursday night, with the bases loaded in the third inning, Cooper had grounded into a double play. Not this time. He knew as soon as he made contact.
“I hit into a double play last night," Cooper said. "I wasn't going to do it again. Luckily, I got a pitch in the middle of the plate,” Cooper said. “I knew I got a good bit of it.”
Alabama centerfielder Georgie Salem leaped, but to no avail. Auburn had a 6-1 lead that it would not relinquish.
The Tigers (16-11, 1-7) broke a seven-game Southeastern Conference losing streak and evened their series with Alabama (17-11, 6-2). They’ll try to win the series Saturday at 3 p.m.
Auburn left-hander Michael O’Neal was in control for most of the night. All three Alabama runs were unearned, the results of two errors by right fielder Hunter Kelley and one by third baseman Damek Tomscha. O’Neal went 7 2/3 innings, giving up eight hits. He struck out three and didn’t walk a batter to get the win and moved to 5-2. Terrance Dedrick gave up one hit in 1 1/3 innings and got his second save.
O’Neal, a junior college transfer from Columbus, Ga., well understood the importance of starting against Alabama. Dedrick, a junior college transfer from Tuscaloosa, understood even more.
“It’s amazing,” O’Neal said. “It’s just perfect. I really can’t even describe it.”
Dedrick, who grew up an Alabama fan, said he’d had this weekend on his mind since he signed with Auburn.
“This is definitely one I’ve been thinking about for a while,” Dedrick said. “I grew up in Tuscaloosa, so I pulled for Alabama, but once you sign with Auburn you are all in. I’m definitely all Auburn now.”
Dedrick, Cooper and shortstop Dan Glevenyak combined for perhaps the biggest defensive play of the game. After Mikey White led off the top of the ninth with a single, pinch hitter Cameron Carlisle grounded hard toward first. Cooper snared it and threw to Glevenyak covering second. Glevenyak fired to Dedrick, racing to cover first, for the double play.
“I wasn’t even thinking double play,” Cooper said. “I was just trying to get the out at second. They made a great play.”
Dedrick took over with runners on first and third and two outs in the eighth inning. He got Kyle Overstreet to ground out to shortstop to end the inning.
Auburn got five of its six runs on two swings. Kelley hit a two-run homer in the third to wipe out a 1-0 Alabama lead. In the fifth, Ebert singled home Kelley, who had walked. Cooper followed with his three-run homer. The Tigers had their first two-homer game of the season.
Auburn coach John Pawlowski was relieved to see the losing streak end.
“It was big to see some smiles in the locker room,” Pawlowski said. “These guys have really been working hard. We finally got some things to go our way.”
Breaking out of a slump, Ryan Tella went 2-for-4 and was the only Auburn player with more than one hit. The Tigers managed just seven hits off Keller and reliever Keaton Haack. Alabama’s pitchers walked five. Auburn pitchers did not walk a batter.
Auburn is expected to start left-hander Will Kendall against Alabama in Saturday’s rubber game.