AUBURN – For five innings Friday night at Plainsman Park, the basepaths seemed to swallow up Auburn hitters. Eleven of them reached base. Only one of them scored.
Auburn coach John Pawlowski has his say to home plate umpre Jo Marion/Lauren Barnard photo
But in the end, the Tigers, who have trailed in 17 of their last 18 games, got some big hits at big teams and beat Georgia 4-3 in the first game of a three-game series at Plainsman Park.
Because of expected inclement weather Sunday, the series will end with a doubleheader today. The first game begins at 1 p.m. with the second game to follow 45 minutes after the first.
The Tigers, who lost their first seven SEC games and were 1-8 after three series won for the sixth time in seven games and fourth time in six Southeastern Conference games. They moved into a tie for 11th with Missouri at 21-13 overall and 4-9 in the SEC. Georgia sagged to 12-23 and 2-11 in the SEC.
Centerfielder Ryan Tella led the offense, going 4-for-5, and scoring three runs.
Tella slumped badly early in the SEC season. His average fell as low as .269. He raised it to .313 Friday night. He gave hitting coach Gabe Gross credit for helping him break out of it.
“I’ve just been working hard,” Tella said. “I’ve been trying to keep to myself and know what I need to do. I just kept working in the cage on tee work and flipping with Coach Gabe. I’m just seeing it well, I guess. I’m staying quiet in the box and letting my hands do the work.”
More importantly, Tella said, Auburn players didn’t give up the fight.
“Gabe teaches us to go 1-to-9 and 9-to-1,” Tella said. “If you don’t have a good at-bat, go to the next one. If that doesn’t work out, keep fighting. This is a fighting group, offensively, defensively and pitching.”
Hunter Kelley, who entered the game as a pinch runner in the fifth inning, drove a double into the left-center gap to score Blake Austin, who had doubled, with what proved to be the winning run in the fifth inning.
Auburn outhit the Bulldogs 12-7.
Three Auburn pitchers wouldn’t let the Bulldogs get loose. Starter Conner Kendrick gave up all over Georgia’s hits, but both runs he surrendered in 5 2/3 innings were unearned. Justin Camp gave up only a walk in 1 1/3 innings and got the win to improve to 4-0. Terrance Dedrick pitched two dominant innings, retiring every hitter he faced, for his third save.
Georgia scored a run in the first to take a 1-0 lead, but Auburn answered to tie it. Two unearned runs in the second gave the Bulldogs a 3-1 lead. They were finished scoring.
The Tigers got a run in the fourth when Tella singled, stole second and scored on Cullen Wacker’s single. They tied it in the sixth when Tella doubled, went to third on Jordan Ebert’s sacrifice bunt and scored on Wacker’s sacrifice fly.
In the eighth, Austin and Hunter hit back-to-back doubles, both to left center, and Auburn had a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
Auburn coach John Pawlowski saluted his team’s determination.
“I was hoping we would come through again, and finally we did,” Pawlowski said. “I was excited to see what Hunter Kelley did. He gets an opportunity to play and comes up with a huge double when we needed it. Our guys fought hard. Conner Kendrick clearly didn’t have his best stuff, but when you look at the bottom line he stayed in there for as long as he could and gave us a chance to win the game.”