Baseball Out-Duels No. 21 LSU, 3-1
April 16, 2011
BATON ROUGE, La. - Auburn found itself locked into an old-fashioned pitcher's duel on Saturday night at Alex Box Stadium before a ninth-inning two-run home run off the bat of Casey McElroy into the bleachers in right sent Auburn (20-14, 7-7 SEC) to a 3-1, series-clinching win at No. 21 LSU (22-14, 3-11 SEC).
"What a game. We didn't have much going for us offensively and we thought it was going to come down to one play, one swing, one pitch and it certainly did today. Casey squared that ball pretty good," Auburn Head Coach John Pawlowski said. "Cory Luckie went out tonight and pitched out of trouble. He had some big situations and he made big pitches when he needed to."
Deadlocked at 1-1 heading to the ninth, Cullen Wacker laced a pinch-hit single into right to get the decisive inning started. It was the second straight night that Wacker came off the bench to deliver a big hit in a crucial spot. Following a Justin Fradejas (0-for-2) sac bunt that put Wacker in scoring position, McElroy (1-for-3, 2R) crushed a 3-2 Kevin Gausman (2-4) offering for his sixth home run of the season to give Auburn the two-run cushion.
"I was really just fighting to try and put the ball in play to move the runner," McElroy said. "I struggled tonight offensively, striking out a couple of times. When I got the count to 3-2 I was just looking for a ball that I could make contact with or potentially fight off a pitch and fortunately the ball was a good pitch and I barreled it up."
Though he didn't factor into the decision, Auburn starter Luckie went two-to-toe and pitch-for-pitch with LSU starter Gausman for over seven innings before turning things over to Ethan Wallen. In what was his second-longest start of the season, Luckie scattered six hits and two walks over 6 2/3 innings, matching his career high for strike outs with nine, which he also matched last weekend in relief at Kentucky.
"That was one of the most exciting games we have played in since the regional last year. We are turning the corner and we needed this kind of atmosphere," Luckie said. "Tony (Caldwell) deserves a lot of the credit tonight. He does a real good job of managing the game back there."
Wallen picked up the win to improve to 3-3 on the season, entering with runners on first and second and two outs in the seventh and the game knotted at 1-1. The right-hander needed just two pitches to get out of the inning but had to work out of self-induced trouble in the eighth to preserve the victory.
"It was a very up-and-down performance. I struggled in the eighth inning and I got back in the dugout and focused on throwing strikes and getting ahead of batters," Wallen said.
Wallen walked the first two hitters he faced in the eighth but Tony Caldwell, who had already thrown out one base runner on the evening, gunned down Tyler Hanover (1-for-3, 2B) racing from second to third on a missed hit-and-run by Austin Nola (1-for-4, R). Wallen then struck out Nola for the second out and got a fly out off the bat of Kirk Cunningham (0-for-4) to keep it tied, setting the stage for McElroy.
LSU threatened again in the ninth, getting a man in scoring position with two outs, bringing Grant Dozar to the plate. The pinch hitter worked a 2-2 count before sending a fly ball out to right that Fradejas squeezed two steps in front of the warning track to preserve the win.
LSU used a leadoff double from Nola to score a run off Luckie in the second. Mason Katz' (2-for-3) RBI single to center scored Nola for the 1-0 lead, though Caldwell was able to stunt the big inning as he threw out Katz trying to steal third. Katz was the 16th runner Caldwell has gunned down this season, best in the SEC.
Luckie's biggest pitches may have come in the bottom of the sixth as LSU got a single from Raph Rhymes (2-for-4) and a double down the line in right by Hanover to put two in scoring position with just one out. Auburn elected to intentionally walk Mikie Mahtook (0-for-2, 2 BB), loading the bases for Nola. Nola worked a full count before going down swinging, Luckie's eighth strike out of the night, and then Luckie got Cunningham to bounce one back to the mound to end the inning and keep Auburn down just a run, 1-0.
Caldwell's (1-for-4) RBI single after a McElroy walk and a Dan Gamache (1-for-3) single tied the game at 1-1 in the top of the seventh. The RBI was the 13th in the last five games for Caldwell, who extended his career-best hitting streak to 10 games with the hit.
Gausman's final pitch was the one he threw to McElroy, spoiling an impressive outing in which he struck out eight and scattered five hits and two walks in 8 1/3 innings.
Auburn will go for the sweep on Sunday at 1pm. Jr. RHP Jon Luke Jacobs (1-1, 5.20) gets the starting nod on the mound for Auburn while Sr. RHP Ben Alsup (4-3, 3.27) will go for LSU.
Auburn 3, LSU 1 (Apr 16, 2011 at Baton Rouge, LA)
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