HOOVER, Ala.—Auburn has a reputation as an offensive team, but in Thursday's 3-1 victory against South Carolina, it showed once again that it can win games in all sorts of different ways. Auburn's pitching went to-to-toe against the Southeastern Conference's best pitching staff and won.
Auburn lefty Grant Dayton and South Carolina ace righty Blake Cooper dueled into the eighth inning—both allowed just a solo homer apiece, and both left with the game tied 1-1. The bullpens traded zeroes until the 12th, when Auburn's Trent Mummey hit a bases-loaded two-run single on a 3-and-2 fastball from hard-throwing Gamecocks closer Matt Price.
Dayton was replaced by senior righthander Austin Hubbard, who struck out five over 4 2/3 scoreless innings, the longest relief outing of his career. Hubbard's 80-81 slider is one of the nastiest pitches in the SEC, and he leaned on it heavily, even when the Gamecocks loaded the bases with two out in the 10th.
"I think especially in this park, if you fill the zone up at the bottom of the zone, there's a lot of real estate out there, and I think you can be successful," Hubbard said. "We got ahead of a lot of hitters, Grant got a lot of leadoff guys out, and obviously the defense was a huge part of that too. And (catcher Ryan) Jenkins obviously, I wonder how he's doing now, catching 12 innings and and blocking 8,000 sliders or whatever."
That set the stage for Mummey's heroics in the 12th. In the end, Auburn got the timely hit before South Carolina could, but this game was about pitching.
"So much credit has gone to the hitters, rightfully so—they've done a great job and time and time again have bailed us out of a lot of tough situations," Auburn coach John Pawlowski said. "It's just nice to see the pitchers working so hard and get a reward."
Auburn kept its national seed hopes alive with the victory, while South Carolina's hopes all but evaporated after its 0-2 showing in Hoover on the heels of series losses in two of the last three weekends. Gamecocks coach Ray Tanner said he was very pleased with the way his team pitched in both of the losses, but he expressed frustration both days with his the quality of his hitters' at-bats. The Gamecocks mustered just one run in 21 innings here in Hoover, and they have scored just five runs total in their four losses in the last week.
"I thought it was a little bit better, but that being said, we had some clutch situations I didn't think they had quality at-bats," Tanner said. "You're not going to get a hit every time you want to, but as a percentage we didn't get great at-bats with runners in scoring position, and that's been frustrating. We haven't been a great offensive team this year, but we haven't been this bad, either."
Tanner said the Gamecocks will work hard the rest of the week—he plans to run two-a-day practice sessions each of the next three days. The plan, he said, is to simulate certain situations and try to get hit hitters to be more aggressive.
The time off might be just what South Carolina needs.
"When you're going well," said outfielder Whit Merrifield, "you want to keep playing and keep that momentum going, and right now we don't have any."
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