David defeating Goliath, US Hockey beating the USSR, and the Tortoise winning over the Hare. These are some of the most recognizable underdog victories in history and this weekend another underdog prevailed as Auburn baseball shocked the college baseball world to win the series 2-1 over number three ranked South Carolina. The Tigers relied on strong pitching and electric at bats to succeed in taking their first SEC road series win of the season and handing the Gamecocks their first home series loss of the season.
Friday night showcased Auburn’s dominance from first pitch to the final out, beating the Gamecocks 8-3, marking only the second time the Gamecocks had lost at home all season. The story of the night for the Tigers was the success of starting pitcher Tommy Vail, who pitched one of his best outings of the season, going five innings with seven strikeouts and only two earned runs. Once Vail left the mound, the Tigers bullpen stepped up and delivered as well. Tanner Bauman went three innings for the Tigers with two strikeouts and only one earned run and Will Cannon sealed the game for the Tigers, closing the game in the nineth inning.
“I knew I had to go as deep as I could, trust the guys behind me and trust the bullpen,” Vail said. “Luckily, I was able to give us a couple more good innings and get us in position to win. I was able to get some swings and misses up in the zone. I knew the defense was going to play well behind me. I knew I could fill it up and let them work.”
Auburn’s offense also stepped up against the number three Gamecocks, tailing ten hits, thanks to two hit performances from Chris Stanfield, Bobby Peirce, Cooper McMurray and Bryson Ware.
The game also included Chris Stanfield stealing home in the top of the first to get the Tigers the early lead. This was only the second time an Auburn player has stolen home since 2010.
“It was split second,” Stanfield said of his daring break toward home plate. “I saw him take that one step like he’s getting in the windup and just trusted my instincts and went. I feel great. I’m proud of the guys, great win,” Stanfield said. “BT talked the whole time about coming down here and being us and we did it, so I’m proud of us.”
This game moved the Tigers record in series openers this season to 9-2 and was the sixth time this season that Auburn has held their opponent to three or fewer runs to start a series.
“The guys did an amazing job,” head coach Butch Thompson said. “We’ve been here before, and we’re at the stage now where this is a good win but we know we’ve got to get right back in the middle of this because we have to have more before we leave town.”
Saturday afternoon saw the Tigers do something that no other ball team had been able to accomplish all season: take a series from the Gamecocks in Columbia, with Auburn winning the game 9-5. Once again, the Auburn bats came alive as the Tigers jumped out to an early lead thanks to a four runs first inning, thanks mainly to Cole Foster and Kason Howell both having two-RBI singles.
“Two days in a row we scored in the first inning and really set a tone,” Thompson said. “It got us into the ballgame, and we did even more today in the first.”
As it was on Friday, the pitchers stepped in a major way to secure the series for the Tigers, with Christian Herberholz going four innings with six strikeouts on only one earned run. Chase Isbell then game in to go one inning with one strikeout and two earned runs. Konner Copeland would be the next and final pitcher from Auburn’s bullpen Saturday as he stepped up in a major way, going four innings with four strikeouts, one hit and two earned runs to close out the series victory for the Tigers.
“I believe in our team so much,” Copeland said. “I just try to fill it up. That’s all I have to do. Let the hitters hit. I believe in my defense, and our offense shows out pretty much all of the time, so just fill it up and do what you have to do.”
By winning Saturday, Auburn secured its first SEC road series of the season, while also handing the Gamecocks only their third loss in Columbia of the season.
“We’ve won four out of five to begin this second half, but we have a long second half to go,” Thompson added. “Players are allowed to get better, and this is a good step forward for us this weekend, but we have to keep playing.”
Sunday proved to be the bounce back game for the Gamecocks, where the Tigers fell in the series finale 8-7. Again, the Auburn bats got off to a hot start, scoring four runs in the first inning, thanks mainly to a two-out, two-run home run by Bryson Ware.
The struggle came again from Auburn’s bullpen where the Tigers used seven different pitchers after starter Will Cannon could not make it out of the third inning.
"Great battle, all three games," Thompson added. "If we'll battle that way, like we did last week, if we battle like that, we'll take whatever happens results wise. If we can keep the process and energy that will equal our true results."
This series will prove very helpful for the Tigers come selection Monday if they take care of business the rest of the way.
Auburn returns to the Plains for finals week before taking on No. 1 LSU (35-8, 15-5 SEC) in three games at Plainsman Park Friday through Sunday.