HOOVER, Ala. – Justin Bryant got a line-out from Georgia’s Colby May with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the ninth as the Auburn baseball team survived an elimination game with a 3-2 win on Wednesday afternoon at the SEC Tournament at Regions Park. The win improved Auburn’s record to 31-27 and kept the team at the tournament for at least one more day, where it will face the loser of the Vanderbilt-South Carolina game at 4:30pm on Thursday on CSS.
“It has been the theme all year; every game, every situation, every pitch, and here we are again. Ninth inning, anything can happen,” Auburn Head Coach John Pawlowski said. “We were very fortunate today to come out with a win. I am really proud of our team. We responded well today.”
Bryant, who had homered in the third inning to put Auburn up, 3-0, entered with two on and two out in the eighth and Auburn clinging to a one-run lead. He needed just four pitches to strike out Georgia’s Curt Powell, who was already 2-for-3 with a pair of singles, to preserve the one-run advantage.
“Justin Bryant is one of the truest competitors we have on the team. He swung the bat and got on the mound. I am really pleased with our club tonight,” Pawlowski said.
Georgia would not go quietly, however. After a ground out started the ninth, Kyle Farmer tripled to right-center, putting the tying run at third with only one out. Auburn opted to pull the infield in for Brett DeLoach and Bryant induced a hard chopper to Dan Glevenyak at short, who looked Farmer back before going to first. Georgia then worked a pair of walks, the second after Bryant had Peter Verdin down 0-2, before May lined out to Bobby Andrews in left, who squeezed the glove for the final out.
Bryant picked up his seventh save of the season with his 1 1/3 innings of shutout relief.
Auburn took a 1-0 lead in the first when Jay Gonzalez walked, stole second and scored from second on a Patrick Savage single back up the middle.
Gonzalez then led off the third with a single to left and stole second, going to third as Georgia catcher Joey Delmonico’s throw sailed into center. A Creede Simpson RBI groundout followed for a two-run lead before Bryant blasted a two-out solo home to left, his fourth career home run in seven career games against Georgia.
“It’s the SEC Tournament and your focus is turned up a little bit. I just happened to get a couple of pitches up that I could handle,” Bryant said of his home run.
Auburn would get the leadoff guy on in four out of the first five innings, stealing second all four times as the team finished with five steals, one shy of the SEC Tournament single-game record.
Georgia got two runs back in the eighth off of reliever Derek Varnadore when Hunter Cole walked, Verdin singled and singles from pinch hitter Nelson Ward and Conor Welton each drove in runs, setting up the nail-biting ninth.
Auburn starter Daniel Koger (4-5) got the win, holding Georgia scoreless through 5 1/3 despite surrendering seven hits and a walk. Georgia would put a runner in scoring position in the first, fourth, fifth and sixth innings against Koger but Auburn’s defense, which played an errorless game, got Koger out of the jam each time.
“Daniel Koger, to go out in that environment as a freshman, I thought he did a tremendous job,” Pawlowski said.
Georgia’ Michael Palazzone (2-7) took the loss, allowing all three of Auburn’s runs in 4 1/3 innings on six hits and three walks.
Varnadore would be charged for two runs in 2 1/3 innings. The senior entered in the sixth with two on and one out but induced a fly out and a ground out to end the inning. He followed with a scoreless seventh before getting into trouble in the eighth.
Catcher Caleb Bowen finished the game 1-for-4 but his play behind the plate, including his blocking of balls in the dirt in the bottom of the ninth, earned praise from Bryant and Pawlowski.
“For Caleb to block that ball in the ninth, that was a tremendous play,” Pawlowski said.
“Having (Bowen) behind the plate gives you confidence. He is like a brick wall,” Bryant said. “You can throw anything you want to, nothing is getting by him.”