Saks product Bowen makes clutch stop behind the plate,Auburn survives SEC elimination game against UGA
by Joe Medley
May 24, 2012 | 7196 views |  0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
HOOVER — High-fives found Caleb Bowen in the dugout after Auburn survived its SEC tournament elimination game against Georgia on Wednesday, but it was all about what the Saks product did close to the ground.

The senior catcher blocked four Justin Bryant breaking balls in the bottom of the ninth inning, including one well outside the open batter’s box with the tying run on third base.

After Colby May lined out to left field to end the Tigers’ 3-2 victory at Regions Park, the Auburn dugout was alive with talk of another Bowen “block party.”

“It’s always been my specialty, defense,” Bowen said as he peeled off his catcher’s garb. “In that situation, we know the game plan, and the game plan is nothing gets by me.

“That’s what I was going for right there.”

Because Bowen did his thing, Auburn (31-27) will continue doing its thing in the SEC Tournament. The Tigers will playSouth Carolina in today’s 4:30 p.m. elimination game.

The Tigers, who entered the SEC Tournament teetering on the NCAA Tournament bubble, also picked up a badly needed victory after losing their Tuesday opener against Florida, 6-1.

“Our guys know what we have to do,” Auburn coach John Pawlowski said. “Our focus is, ‘Hey, let’s stick around. Let’s play for tomorrow.’”

Auburn will be around another day for lots of reasons, starting with freshman pitcher Daniel Koger (4-5). He allowed no runs in 5 1/3 innings of work.

Bryant picked up his seventh save of the season and provided the difference with a solo home run over the left-field wall to put Auburn up 3-0 in the third inning against Georgia starter Michael Palazzone (2-7).

The Tigers also got Patrick Savage’s run-scoring single in the first inning and Creede Simpson’s run-scoring grounder in the third — after Jay Gonzalez singled, stole second base and took third base on a high throw into center field.

But Georgia (31-26) rallied for two runs in the eighth inning off reliever Derek Varnadore, on singles by pinch hitter Nelson Ward and Conor Welton.

Bryant came on to strike out Curt Powell and end the threat, then trotted back out for Georgia’s final at bat in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Auburn coach John Pawlowski stuck with Bryant, even after Kyle Farmer tripled to put the tying run on third base with one out.

“Caleb does a great job, and the players all have a lot of confidence in him,” Pawlowski said. “I told JB when I went out there, I said, ‘You’ve got to trust your stuff, and you’ve got to trust Caleb that he’s going to be there for you.’”

Bowen was making his 20th start of the season and first in the SEC tourney. He went 1-for-4 with an infield single, but offense hasn’t been his forte at Auburn. He showed defensive prowess in a reserve role in the Florida game, gunning down Justin Shafer on a steal attempt.

Wednesday’s game came down to Bryant’s breaking balls and Bowen’s ability to keep them in front of home plate.

Bryant induced a grounder from Brett DeLoach, and shortstop Dan Glevenyak held Farmer at third base before throwing to first base for the second out.

Hunter Cole walked and stole second base, and Verdin was up with runners on second and third and two outs. That’s when Georgia fell victim to a Bowen special.

Bryant’s offering bounced low and outside, and Bowen lunged to his right and blocked it, past the batter’s box and a step down the first-base line. Farmer held at third base.

“Having this guy back there behind the plate gives you confidence,” Bryant said, pointing at Bowen. “He’s a brick wall. You can throw anything you want to and nothing gets by him.”

Verdin eventually walked to load the bases, and May came behind him with a line shot right at Auburn left fielder Bobby Andrews to end the game.

“We played hard, but we’ve just had an extremely difficult time hitting with runners in scoring position,” Georgia coach David Perno said.

Auburn, which entered the SEC tourney at No. 56 in the RPI and 10th highest among SEC teams, moves on with a chance to keep making its case to the NCAA.

“It’s huge momentum,” Bowen said. “This is a team that swept us earlier in the season. They had our number earlier, and they actually put us out last year, so it’s big to be able to put them out this year.

“Now, we can ride this momentum into tomorrow and keep playing.”

Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576. Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.

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