In the first elimination game of the SEC tournament, Auburn and South Carolina battled into extra innings Thursday before Trent Mummey delivered a two-run single in the top of the 12th to provide the 3-1 margin.
“One pitch from each of them could have left the yard and won the game,” Hubbard said of the two starters, Auburn’s Grant Dayton and South Carolina’s Blake Cooper. “Those games aren’t always the funnest to watch, but it is fun to pitch like that.”
While the pitchers’ duel wouldn’t make any SportsCenter highlight reels — unlike Justin Fradejas’ diving catch in right field —it was all forgotten when Mummey pushed in the clutch.
Even thought the offense wasn’t the star of the day — it was the only run Auburn had scored in eight-plus innings — it did help provide a little bit of redemption for the second-seeded Tigers, who were all but assured of a regional berth win or lose.
“We felt like we had a lot more to accomplish,” Mummey said.
Auburn will get that chance today at 3 p.m. The Tigers (40-18) take on Ole Miss, a 6-3 loser to Alabama.
Though a win is a win, it was highly out of character for the Tigers (40-18), especially if you’re not counting their anemic five-hit performance in the tournament opener against arch-rival Alabama.
Auburn ended the regular season leading the lead in eight offensive categories, but in its two games so far at the pitcher friendly Regions Park, its bats have gone cold. Before Mummey’s late-game heroics, Auburn had only scored two runs in 20 innings — far below its regular-season average of just more than nine runs a game.
Auburn stranded 11 runners, and South Carolina didn’t fare much better, leaving a dozen. With the Gamecocks, though, it was about average as they ranked middle of the pack in most offensive categories.
Instead of calling it a slump, or blaming it on the Tigers’ lack of playoff experience — some players were still in grade school the last time the Tigers made the tourney — Auburn coach John Pawlowski gave credit to the quality of arms the Tigers had faced the past two days.
Alabama’s Jimmy Nelson, who won in a complete-game effort, is in the top 10 in strikeouts in the league, and South Carolina’s Blake Cooper leads the conference in wins with 10.
“The pitching (we’ve faced) so far has been outstanding,” Pawlowski said. “ … We’re seeing elite pitchers, and that’s what’s going to happen when you get to the regionals.
“We just happened to run into them on back-to-back days.”
With arms at a premium when tournament time rolls around each year, Auburn is not in as bad of shape as one might think.
After Dayton left in the eighth — six pitches away from 100 — Hubbard shouldered the load for the bullpen. He threw 4 2/3 innings, hurling 69 pitches and giving up only two hits to pick up the win against the third-seeded Gamecocks (43-15).
Against Alabama, starter Cory Luckie worked 6 2/3, leaving only seven outs for the bullpen to mop up.
Auburn still has junior left-hander Cole Nelson, one of its three weekend starters, at its disposal. Nelson, a 6-foot-7 hurler, is 6-3 this season with a 4.94 ERA.
The Tigers also have four more untouched arms with starting experience.
Bran Strickland is the sports editor for The Star. He can be reached at 235-3570.