LEXINGTON, Ky. - Auburn scored an SEC season-high eight runs, and Dillon Ortman pitched another outstanding game as the Tigers evened the weekend series with an 8-1 win over Kentucky Saturday night at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
The Tigers (27-24, 10-16) were in dire need of a win to keep pace in the SEC standings with Georgia, who won at Ole Miss earlier in the day. As it stands, Auburn remains a half-game behind the Bulldogs for the final spot in the SEC Tournament with four games left for both teams. The win also puts Auburn just a game behind Kentucky (29-20, 11-15) and Tennessee in the standings; a Tiger win Sunday would pull the teams even and give Auburn the edge in a tiebreaker scenario with the Wildcats and the Vols.
The rubber game of the series - potentially the most important game of the season for both teams - is set for a noon CT first pitch Sunday. Auburn freshman Keegan Thompson is slated to get the start on the mound; Kentucky has yet to announce a starting pitcher.
Ortman (9-3) put together another strong performance on the mound to remain tied for the SEC lead with his ninth win of the year. He gave up one earned run on seven scattered hits while striking out five and walking four. Jay Wade and Trey Cochran-Gill each pitched a scoreless inning of relief.
“Dillon was really good on the mound and the guys played good defense,” Auburn head coach Sunny Golloway said. “We took advantage when they didn’t play good defense and scored runs. I think the key again is how this team feels when Dillon Ortman is on the mound. When Dillon’s on the mound, there’s a lot of confidence. It’s good to see guys like Dan Glevenyak (have a big night). He’s been working so hard to get back in the lineup, and it’s really paying off for us. And it’s a big energy boost in the dugout.
Auburn, which recorded a season-high scoring output in SEC play for this year, got three-hit nights from its 9-1-2 stretch in the lineup. Glevenyak led the way with a 3-for-5 night, driving in a season-high three RBIs. Anfernee Grier was 3-for-5 with two runs scored, and Damon Haecker went 3-for-5 and scored one run. Daniel Robert and Jordan Ebert contributed two hits apiece.
Seven of Auburn’s eight runs on the night came with two outs.
“Clutch hitting is something we’ve talked about,” Golloway said. “It’s something that’s been our Achilles’ heel, and we haven’t been very good at it. Our guys have been grinding and working at it. It has to do with our approach and a positive attitude at the plate. I thought we did a really good job, right from the get-go, scoring (six runs) in the first three frames. That was big for us.”
Already leading 2-0, Auburn blew the game open in the third inning with a four-run barrage as eight men came to the plate for the Tigers. Three straight hits from Haecker, Blake Austin and Daniel Robert led to the Tigers’ third run as Robert drove home Haecker, chasing Kentucky starter Chandler Shepherd (5-3).
Auburn would then take advantage of a Wildcat miscue. With two out and the bases loaded, a Thompson grounder up the middle looked to be the third out, but it was booted to allow Robert to score from third and make it 4-0. Three pitches later, Glevenyak drove in his second and third runs of the game with a 2-RBI single to center, scoring Jordan Ebert and Damek Tomscha to make it 6-0.
Kentucky got on the board in the fourth with a Storm Wilson RBI double to score Ka’ai Tom to make it 6-1, but that would be all the offense the Wildcats could muster as they left 10 runners aboard.
Auburn added one run in the fifth when Ebert reached on an infield single deep up the middle, and Tomscha came all the way around from second and scored when his slide dislodged the ball from the Kentucky catcher, giving the Tigers a 7-1 lead.
It would be 8-1 after six when, again with two on and two outs, Blake Logan reached on an error, allowing Grier to score from second.
The Tigers got a single run in each of the first two innings. Three hits in the first - the third being an RBI single from Robert to score Grier - gave Auburn a 1-0 lead. It would be 2-0 after two innings when Glevenyak laced a two-out triple off the left-field wall to score Thompson from first.
Kentucky’s first scoring chance was cut down in the second inning when, with one out, what looked to be a sacrifice fly to right turned into a double play as Grier fired a one-hopper to Austin, who blocked the plate and prevented Wilson from scoring what would have been the Wildcats’ first run.