Loyal fans of Auburn athletics found themselves with a unique opportunity on the first Saturday of March, with a little help from mother nature. Auburn’s third game of the series, originally scheduled for an early Sunday start, was moved back one day to avoid the forecasted rain. This set up a rare doubleheader on Saturday afternoon, with a men’s basketball game sandwiched right in between.
Droves of Auburn fans could be seen exiting the first game in the 8th inning to make the quick walk across the parking lot to Auburn Arena, and by the 2nd inning of Game 2, Plainsman Park was back to a packed house. The returning fans may have been surprised to see the score, as the six runs tacked on the scoreboard after just six recorded outs were more than what was scored in the entire duration of Game 1. While everyone expected the teams to change uniforms during the 45-minute intermission, few expected that the style of play would have taken such a dramatic turn.
It seems that skipper Butch Thompson has found the second piece of the starting pitcher puzzle, as Jack Owen was dominant on the bump for the Tigers. Owen did not have quite the same record-breaking afternoon as Burns in Game 1, but Burns is a tough act to follow. The Auburn offense showed up early to help Owen out in his first start of the season, and first weekend start of the year. A leadoff double from Judd Ward on an 0-1 count put the Tigers in business, and Will Holland finished the job with a line drive single into left-center that waved Ward into home.
Game 1 quickly turned into a pitcher’s duel, and Owen was up to the challenge. Cincinnati southpaw Nathan Kroger and Owen battled back and forth for nearly seven innings, with the first-inning Auburn run the lone score of the game until a Kason Howell double scored Ryan Bliss. Bliss had a near forty-foot jump on the play at the crack of the bat thanks to a steal attempt that allowed him to score from first base with no play at the plate.
Jack Owen could not have hoped for a better result in his first career weekend start, as he tossed 88 pitches in seven scoreless innings with 0 walks and only 3 hits. Owen’s 10 strikeouts on the day is a career high for the lefty, and he disposed of the first six Bearcat batters in stride with two quick 3-up 3-down innings.
Following a 4th-inning single from Jeremy Johnson, Owen retired 12 straight, and took his leave in the top of the 8th. Kroger also experienced success following the first-inning shelling, retiring eight Tigers on strikes, and only conceding six hits in the first six innings of play. Kroger was pulled in the 7th after the Howell RBI, and the wheels really began to come off of the bus for the visiting Bearcats.
While Cody Greenhill excelled in relief, posting 0 hits and 1 walk in his two innings pitched to secure his second save of the season, the Cincinnati relievers had no such luck. Reliever Korren Thompson, was met with a host of hot Auburn bats as he was yanked after letting in three Auburn runs while only recording two outs. Rankin Woley blew the lid off of the game with a stand-up double that put Auburn up 5-0, and the Tigers never looked back. Woley went 2-for-4 with 3 RBI’s in Game 1.
FINAL – Auburn-5 Cincinnati-0 – W-Owen (2-0) L-Kroger (0-1) S-Greenhill (2)
With a fresh set of togs and a newly manicured infield, both teams wasted no time in opening up Game 2 of the doubleheader, marking an early end of the evening for both starting pitchers. Auburn’s Carson Skipper couldn’t get out of his own way as Cole Murphy coasted into second following a failed pick-off attempt, and McLaughlin lifted a two-out double that scored based Wiemer and Murphy.
Auburn escaped the first frame looking to get runners on base in any way possible, and the call was answered as Cincy starter Schoenle walked Ward on five pitches and beaned Holland on a full count. Rankin Woley answered the call of duty and lifted his third double of the day to center right, and just like that Auburn had equalized. Woley was waved in on a Williams single, and Conor Davis was gifted a spot at first after a wild pitch on his third strike swinging that brought Williams home and Auburn doubled up on Cincinnati.
The visiting skipper sent a fresh face on the bump for the second frame after a disastrous first, and Drake Batcho seemed to have a little bit better of a handle on things. He allowed only two hits in his nine recorded outs, conceding only one Auburn run. The lone Auburn run attributed to Batcho was a solo-shot homerun over the left-field wall by Ryan Bliss, his first career homer. That blast in addition to his three walks in only 14 batters faced seemed to be what ended his outing. Following a two-run homer by Cole Murphy, Skipper Carson was also given the boot as Auburn’s struggles to find a Sunday guy continue.
Elliot Anderson was given the nod to take the mound in the 4th, and he responded with a 3-up 3-down frame that seemed to boost the team’s confidence moving forward. Anderson continued to deal, notching six strikeouts in his 17 batters faced. Auburn surged ahead with some help from Cincy reliever Nathan Moore who boasted the worst stat line of the day kicked off by a double from Williams. Moore then proceeded to walk Davis and Bliss, let in one run off of a sac fly from Bliss, hit Ward on the shoulder, and walk Will Holland on five pitches to give up two of the easiest runs Auburn will get all season.
The rest of the game continued to be more of the same as both skippers utilized the less tested members of their respective bullpens. Auburn never surrendered their lead and ended the game winning by a final tally of 9-5. Brooks Fuller, who last saw action against Alabama A&M, comes in to be awarded the save after throwing 1 and two-thirds scoreless innings.
FINAL – Auburn-9 Cincinnati-5 – W-Anderson (2-0) L-Batcho(0-2) S-Fuller(1)
The Tigers get the much-needed sweep and learn a lot about their starting pitching moving forward, as Burns and Owen look to be the team leaders for the time being. This win improves Auburn to 9-2 on the season and putting them in good position to wrap up out-of-conference play in their next weekend series. Auburn is back in action for a midweek series against UT-Martin March 5 and 6 at Plainsman Park, both games are at 4 p.m. Auburn’s next weekend series will be against UTSA beginning on March 8.