Ryan Tella celebrates after his walk-off single Sunday at Plainsman Park (Zach Bland photo)
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. - A game that had seemed won was suddenly in peril. Just when the celebration had been about to start, it had ended.
As senior Ryan Tella walked to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, he could hear the whooping and hollering from the first base dugout. Mercer had scored three runs in the top of the ninth to tie the game at 5-5.
Tella fouled off four pitches from Ben Lumsden Mercer's fourth pitcher. Finally, he shot a ground ball between third base and shortstop to score Jordan Ebert and lift Auburn to a 6-5 victory and sweep of the three-game weekend series with Mercer.
"I was just looking to put something in play," said Tella, who was 3-for-5 with a triple and a run scored. "That's all I needed to do. I didn't need to hit a bomb, didn't need to hit a gap shot or a double or anything. I was able to find a hole and be successful."
The Tigers improved to 9-6. They play at Kennesaw State on Tuesday and Alabama State at Plainsman Park on Wednesday before opening Southeastern Conference play on Friday against Texas A&M. Mercer, No. 11 in the RPI coming into the series, fell to 12-5.
Auburn coach Sunny Golloway saluted Tella's final approach.
"Give it to Tella," Golloway said. "He did a good job. He battled, boy. There were some borderline pitches he kept fouling off."
Senior Michael O'Neal was sharp in his third start, giving up three hits in 6 2/3 innings. He gave up two runs, but they were the result of a booted groundball by third baseman Connor Short and a dropped flyball by right fielder Anfernee Grier in the fifth inning.
Jay Wade retired the last hitter in the seven. Trey Cochran-Gill gave up two hits but no runs in the eighth. For the second consecutive day, closer Terrance Dedrick ran into big trouble in the ninth. He gave up a double, a triple and two singles as the Bears scored three times to tie the game and left two on base.
Ebert led off the bottom of the ninth with a single and stole second. Grier popped out to first base and Damon Haecker sacrificed Ebert to third for the second out. Damek Tomscha was intentionally walked and Blake Austin was hit by a pitch, setting the stage for Tella.
Auburn coach Sonny Golloway said he saw some things to like, but watching Dedrick struggle was a concern. In Saturday's 4-1 Auburn win, Dedrick gave up three consecutive hits to start the ninth.
"The three runs at the back end is the part that's very worrisome," Golloway said. "There is no doubt about it. I give Terrance a lot of credit for getting out of it with it tied. He left some fastballs up that they could just tattoo. It's very alarming for me. I'm not sure what we are going to do."
Tomscha got Auburn on the board when, with two out in the first, he launched his third home run of the season and second of the weekend over the left field fence. The Tigers got three in the sixth. They got one on Haecker's squeeze that scored Ebert, another on Blake Austin's run-scoring single and another when Jackson Burgreen was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded. They got one more in the eighth when Tella led off with a triple and scored on Bur green's squeeze bunt.
Ebert joined Tella with three hits. He stole two bases and scored two runs. Austin also had two hits.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: