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Tigers win, turn attention to Tide

AUBURN – Despite Alabama State’s season-long struggles, Auburn baseball coach John Pawlowski didn’t expect anything to come easy Wednesday night at Plainsman Park. And it didn’t.

Kevin Patterson had four hits in Wednesday night's victory.

From dealing with portly knuckleballer Trent Popp in the early innings to leaving runners on base in every inning, the Tigers had their struggles against the Hornets. But in the end, they did enough to escape with a 7-5 victory.

“Nothing has come easy for the Auburn Tigers this year,” Pawlowski said. “Every game has been a challenge, every team we’ve faced. I never go into a game thinking anything is going to be easy. You have to compete and be ready to play. I thought our guys did tonight.”

Auburn had 14 hits, led by Kevin Patterson with four. Alabama State pitchers walked six batters and hit one. But the Tigers left 16 runners on base and, after leading 4-0 and 5-1, had to hold off a late Alabama State surge.

But it was still a welcome victory on the heels of losing 9-8 in 10 innings at Samford on Tuesday night and blowing an 11-5 lead in the ninth inning and losing 14-11 to Georgia on Sunday. It was, Patterson said, much needed

“Getting a win is huge after last night and especially after Sunday,” Patterson said. “We were a little down. It was a little too close for comfort. I give them credit. They played hard. We won the game, but you can’t leave that many guys on base. If we do that this weekend, it will be a long weekend. We have to get the guys in when we get them on. I think we’ll do that.”

With Popp’s knuckleballs floating to the plate at less than 60 miles per hour, the Tigers loaded the bases but failed to score in the first inning. In the second, Justin Fradejas drove in a run on a sacrifice fly and Dan Gamache launched a two-run homer to centerfield.

Gamache, Fradejas and Cullen Wacker had two hits apiece for the Tigers.

The Tigers got single runs in the third and fourth and led 5-1. Alabama State made it close with two in the seventh and one in the eighth. But Zach Blatt, who relieved starter Andrew Morris with two out in the sixth inning, pitched a hitless ninth to get the save and secure the victory.

Morris gave up four runs, three of them earned, on five hits in 6 2/3 innings and got the win to make his record 2-3. Blatt gave up three hits and a run in 2 1/3 innings.

Popp, the first of four Alabama State pitchers, took the loss.

Auburn improved to 26-23 overall. Alabama State fell to 14-27.

When it was over, the Tigers turned their attention to perhaps the biggest series of the season. Alabama visits Plainsman Park for a three-game series, starting Friday. Alabama and Arkansas are tied for first in the West with 12-12 league records. Auburn, Ole Miss and Mississippi State are a game behind at 11-13.

“As you are looking down to the end of the season, the magnitude of each weekend continues to grow,” Pawlowski said. “We have six conference games left. There’s not a lot of separation in the West, so obviously it’s important for a lot of reasons.”

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