Troy senior Shohei Fujita has a knack for coming through in the clutch, and he delivered again on Wednesday night with a two-out run-scoring single in the eighth inning to lift the Trojans to a 5-4 victory over Auburn.
The Trojans improved to 13-11 overall with their fifth consecutive win, this one coming in front of a Riddle-Pace Field record crowd of 2,586. Auburn falls to 17-8 with the loss.
Fujita came into the game in the top half of the eighth inning to play second base when Troy closer Chase Whitley (1-1) went to the mound in a tie game with Auburn runners on base. Whitley got a strikeout and fly ball to get out of the inning, setting the stage for Fujita’s heroics.
T.J.Rivera led off the Troy eighth by reaching on an error by Auburn shortstop Casey McElroy. Tigers junior Bradley Hendrix (1-2) retired Troy’s Ryan Ditthardt on a ground ball to second, and Whitley on a fly to center.
Fujita came up next and worked a 2-2 count before hitting a hard smash up the middle that deflected off the glove of Auburn’s Justin Hargett into short center, allowing Rivera to score all the way from second.
Fujita, who did not know any English when he arrived at Troy four years ago, is still a man of few words, but he summed up his late-inning heroics perfectly.
“I see the ball, and I hit the ball,” Fujita said.
Whitley retired the Tigers in order in the ninth, with some help from Steven Felix. Tony Caldwell led off the inning with a high blast off the wall in right, but Felix played the carom perfectly and threw Caldwell out at second.
Trojans assistant coach Mark Smartt, who had to fill-in for head coach Bobby Pierce during post-game interviews because Pierce’s voice is a victim of the spring pollen, summed up what the win means for the Trojans.
“What a great comeback,” Smartt said. “We have talked a lot this week about our want to and our determination, and that is what this win was all about. It was a determined win by a group of guys that wouldn’t quit. That is a great sign and a step in the right direction.”
The Trojans got on the board first when Felix hit an opposite field homer of Auburn starter Slade Smith in the second. Troy added a run in the third when Adam Bryant was hit by a pitch, moved to second on a Smith wild pitch and to third on a balk before scoring on a single by Miles Hoyle.
Auburn got both runs back in the fourth off Troy starter Nick Ward. Brian Fletcher, who had three hits in the game, delivered a one-out homer. McElroy followed with a single and then scored on a two-out bloop double down the leftfield line by Dan Gamache.
The Tigers took the lead in the fifth off Troy freshman Thomas Austin, with help from a Troy error. After Justin Fradejas reached on a one-out infield hit, Caldwell drew a walk. Auburn’s leading hitter, Hunter Morris, followed with a fly ball to center that Troy’s Daniel Peterson dropped, allowing one run to score.
Fletcher followed with an RBI single, giving the Tigers a 4-2 lead.
Troy drew even in the seventh with the help of an Auburn error. After Blake Martz drew a leadoff walk from Tigers reliever Sean Ray, Felix followed with a single. Steven Rosado followed with a ground ball to third that Gamache threw wide of first, allowing both Martz and Felix to score.
“If I am not mistaken, this is our first one-run win and I am really proud of how we stuck in there,” Smartt said. “We pitched well, even though we didn’t play well. We made a lot of defensive mistakes, but we stayed after it. What can you say about Shohei. He had a great at bat, got to two strikes and then hit the ball hard to knock the game-winning run in.”
The Trojans had just seven hits in the game, two each from Hoyle and Felix. Fletcher and Gamache had three hits each to pace the Tigers’ 12-hit attack.
Troy will be back in action in Sun Belt Conference play on Friday night when the Trojans of Arkansas-Little Rock visit Riddle-Pace Field. The game is scheduled for a 6 p.m. start.
The second game of the series, on Saturday, is set to be the Sun Belt game of the week and will be televised on CSS and CST beginning at 3 p.m. Sunday’s series finale is set for 1 p.m.