"This game reminded me of the Kentucky (loss)," said MSU coach Ron Polk. "It seemed like everytime they had men on base, they found some real estate or hit the ball out of the ballpark."
The teams struck for four runs each in the third inning, knocking both starting pitchers out of the game. Tug Hulett tripled in one run, Amonite doubled in another and Scott Schade singled in two more as the Tigers plated four runs on four hits off MSU starter Alan Johnson.
"Last night, we got a couple of key hits," said Polk. "(Today) we didn't get the key hits early. We got to (Arnold) Hughey and they got to (Alan) Johnson and we (both) had to rely on the bullpen. I thought that their bullpen was very outstanding, as it has been all year. That's why they are ranked high and are having a great season."
The Bulldogs batted around in the bottom and tied the score with four runs in the bottom of the third. Matthew Maniscalco opened the inning with his fifth home run of the season. The Bulldogs then loaded the bases when Brad Corley doubled, Matthew Brinson reached on a walk, and Craig Tatum singled to right. Thomas Berkery followed with a sacrifice fly to right to plate one run and J.B. Tucker knotted the score with a two-run single to left field.
"When they put the four-spot up, we just wanted to get on the board that inning," said Matthew Maniscalco. "We did a great job to put up a four-spot and got some momentum but we needed to expand (the lead) the next couple of innings. We had our chances but we didn't get it done."
The score remained deadlocked until the seventh inning when the Tigers struck for three runs. Pinch-hitter Doug Vines drew a walk from Jamie Gant, advanced on a sacrifice bunt, and raced home on Tug Hulett's single up the middle off relief man Brian Owens. Amonite then capped a 3-for-4, 3-RBI
performance with a two-run blast that advanced the Auburn lead to 7-4. Steven Register worked the final 1-2/3 innings and earned his SEC-leading 11th save.
"We walked (Doug) Vines and they hit the sacrifice and got the base hit. Amonite's home run was the killer," said Polk.
The Bulldogs loaded the bases but failed to score in the sixth, stranding 14 base runners in the game, eight of them in scoring position.
"We had some opportunities early and in the middle part of the game to get the lead," Polk said. "I was happy that we got the four-spot after giving them four. From that point in time, it was just who was going to get the key hit."
Steve Gendron paced State at the plate with three hits, including his eighth double of the year. Maniscalco and Corley had two hits each.
Bulldog starter Alan Johnson gave up four runs on six hits with one strikeout in his season-shortest three-inning start.
"They got a couple of hits off of him. Last week he didn't have his typical outing," said Polk. "This kid is not a physcial kid. He might be getting a little tired physically and mentally. We are a little concerned about that but, at the same time, we are going to be marching him out there."
Amonite and Hulett, the SEC's hitting leader, combined for six of Auburn's 14 hits and drove in five of the Tigers' eight runs.
Auburn starter Arnold Hughey allowed four runs on seven hits during his 2-2/3 inning start.
Auburn relief pitchers Levale Speigner, Cory Dueitt and Steven Register blanked the Bulldogs until the ninth inning when Brent Lewis belted a one-out solo home run, his third roundtripper of the year.
"Their bullpen is their strength," said Polk. "They pitched guys in the bullpen who are probably a little bit better than their starters. Speigner has been around a long time. Dueitt has pitched a lot. Register is an ace. They are doing it the way that they need to do it. They have some bullpen guys that they really like. Rather than start their bullpen guys and try to come in with guys that aren't as good, it is better (for them) to have better pitchers in the bullpen."
Dueitt (6-1) picked up the win with 1-2/3 innings of one-hit shutout pitching, while Register earned his SEC-leading 11th save with 1-2/3 innings of game-closing relief work.
The deciding third game of the series is set for 1:30 p.m. Sunday and will be televised regionally on Comcast Sports Southeast. The Bulldogs enter Sunday's series finale with a percentage points lead over LSU (23-11-1, 10-3-1) and a half-game lead over Auburn in the overall conference standings.
"It is going to be a war out there," said Polk of tomorrow's game. "They will be able to use all of their guys again tomorrow, as we will. We have (Jonathan) Papelbon ready. (Saunders) Ramsey and (Robby) Goodson haven't pitched yet. It's just who will get the timely hits. I know we will make the plays. I think we are leading the SEC in defense. That's why we are winning ballgames."
AUBURN 8, MISSISSIPPI STATE 5
AU 004 000 301 --- 8-14-2
MSU 004 000 001--- 5-12-0
WP - Cory Dueitt (6-1). LP - Jamie Gant (1-1). SV - Steven Register (11). HR - MSU: Matthew Maniscalco (5), Brent Lewis (3); AUB: Karl Amonite (5). T - 3:07. ATT - * 11,763 (paid), 11,316 (actual). * 7th-largest attendance at Dudy Noble Field
Alan Johnson, Jamie Gant (4), Brian Owens (7), Jeff Lacher (8) and J.B. Tucker. Arnold Hughey, Levale Speigner (4), Cory Dueitt (6), Steven Register (8) and Josh Bell.
Talk about what happened late in the ballgame when they scored the three runs and took control of the game.
"They had a big inning in the seventh. We tried to battle back. We had a couple of opportunities with runners in scoring position but didn't get it done. They've got a great bullpen. That is the strength of their ballclub. They showed that today."
What makes their bullpen so tough?
"They have (Levale) Speigner. I have been playing against Speigner for four years. He's been a starter for three years. He is as good or better than their starters. They put him out in the pen and they know they are going to have a quick jerk on their starters. He comes in there with a lot of experience and he has about four or five pitches that he can throw for strikes anytime."
Both of you are top 10 teams and it was expected that this series would come down to Sunday.
"They are a great team. You saw that today. We are still confident that we will come out victorious tomorrow. It is a new day tomorrow."
You have a run of at least four good series where you will get tested each weekend.
"We don't look at that right now. We are just looking at tomorrow. We want to win tomorrow and win this series, then worry about the mid-week (games). We take it game by game. We don't look ahead."
Talk a little about Jamie Gant's performance.
"I like Jamie a lot. He is just a redshirt freshman. He is a battler. He has a good, quick arm. He is a good athlete. He is going to be good for us, not only this year, but the next couple of years."
Talk about the crowd.
"I thought that it was a great crowd. I don't know where you could have put any more people in the stands. The bleachers were packed. They were lined up along the fence. I looked in the outfield and I don't know where you could have put 4,000 more people. We've had (almost) 15 (thousand) but that was when we played double-headers and we don't play double-headers any longer. We will never top that."
Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com. You can contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.