Auburn baseball won its weekend series at LSU, its first win in Baton Rouge since 2011, and returns home with newfound energy and, crucially, poise. “We’ve built some confidence, but we have seven more weeks in this league, and they’re all just like this. However, we absolutely gained something from this, ”said Coach Butch Thompson after the game 3 victory. He was quick to spread the credit around the entire team rather than one specific player. “We keep doing things with a lot of people contributing and it being team wins,” Thompson said. “We’ve been seeing this coming for months. This was a tough stretch, and our guys have battled. It’s big to win two series on the road. I’m proud of them for that. “Auburn stands at 5-4 in the conference, two games back of Arkansas in the West, and 19-9 overall.
In Game one, LHP Hayden Mullins was matched with LSU sophomore RHP Blake Money and held his own, giving up two solo home runs but otherwise keeping LSU off the board, racking up seven strikeouts in his four innings of action. Three hits, two walks, and two HBP gave LSU plenty of baserunners for Mullins to work around, but fundamentally sound defense from Auburn’s fielders and timely strikeouts got Mullins out of jams.
The turning point for the contest proved to be the 5th. After a pretty efficient outing for Money to that point – one hit and five strikeouts through the first four innings – Auburn finally got the offense rolling in the 5th. 2B Cole Foster reached with a leadoff single, was advanced to 2nd on a bunt single by OF Josh Hall, and 1B Sonny DiChiara was intentionally walked to reach DH Cam Hill. He ambushed the first pitch he saw for a 2-run single to right, followed by a Brody Moore three-run home run. Later, a fielding error – something we expected to see from the SEC’s statistically worst defense this season – would score one more run in the inning and give auburn a 6-2 lead.
LSU proceeded to chip away at that lead, getting two runs back from reliever Carson Skipper in the 8th on a home run to the right and one on a sac fly to deep center off of Auburn closer Blake Burkhalter in the 9th, but Auburn’s defense once again closed the door thanks to a walk-off catch in foul ground by right fielder Josh Hall, a flyball that took him into the wooden bullpen bench and ultimately would leave him unable to finish the series with a foot injury. He joined LSU rightfielder Drew Bianco (the son of Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco) on the injured list for the rest of the series, as Bianco tripped over the bullpen mound attempting to field a foul ball in the 9th and injured his shoulder.
Game 2 saw Auburn’s offensive struggles continue, as long-time Auburn foe Ma’Khail Hilliard, who memorably dueled eventual 1st overall pick Casey Mize as a freshman in 2018, continued his dominant ways against the Tigers. He threw 5.1 innings of shutout baseball, with Auburn starter Trace Bright notching another quality start in response but taking the tough loss in an eventual 9-2 defeat. Bright gave up a first-inning homerun and then settled down, facing the minimum in the 3rd and 4th and allowing only two total baserunners until the 5th. After a quick groundout, some long LSU at-bats (19 total pitches for three at-bats) put two runners on and scored a run, and Carson Swilling came on for Bright, who had hit 93 pitches. Swilling got out of it with only one additional run scoring, but the 3-0 lead ended up being enough. After Auburn got two back on a short rally in the top half of the 7th where the bottom of the lineup got on and the top of the lineup drove them in, LSU responded in the bottom of the 7th with four runs against Chase Isbell, making his 3rd appearance on the year after having his start to the season delayed due to injury. A superfluous run scored for LSU in the ninth after consecutive singles and a wild pitch off of Mason Barnett.
Game three saw the return to the rotation of righty Joseph Gonzalez, who recovered from a fingernail blister that kept him out of the last two weekend series, a home loss to Ole Miss and a road win against Texas A&M. Against LSU on the road, Gonzalez was back to his dominant ways, with his sinker proving so effective at inducing weak groundballs that he did not need to register a strikeout until after five innings, picking up the first one with one out in the sixth . Of the 30 batters he faced, 10 were out through groundouts, with six flyouts and one strikeout across six full innings of 3 run baseball. The depth of Gonzalez’s start, taking Auburn into the seventh inning, allowed the combo of Carson Skipper and Blake Burkhalter to finish the game and preserve the win for Auburn. The three innings covered by the bullpen in Game 3, most of them from Burkhalter, sealed the deal with only two additional hits and one run allowed to seal the 6-4 victory. Auburn’s runs, uncharacteristically for this series, came distributed throughout the game. Auburn scored a run in the 1st on a Brody Moore sac fly, another in the 4th on a Ryan Dyal single to center that scored Cole Foster, two more in the 5th on a TOWERING home run to center by Sonny DiChiara, and two in the 8th on Kason Howell and Sonny DiChiara singles. For the game, Kason Howell and Sonny DiChiara accounted for three runs and 4 RBIs on 5 for 8 hitting, four of them by DiChaira, with only one strikeout.
Auburn tinkered with defensive alignment all weekend, eventually settling on Bobby Pierce in right as the third outfielder; he started Games 2 & 3 and finished 2-4 with a run scored in game 2 and 1-4 in game 3, as well as flashing a fantastic arm in right field that narrowly missed gunning down an advancing runner at third in game 2’s 5th inning. Bryson Ware has been seemingly relegated to defensive-replacement duties, coming in late in Game 3 for Mike Bello and playing left field. The outfield picture is clouded by the injuries suffered at the end of Game 1 to Josh Hall to the knee and foot; his status for this upcoming weekend vs Vanderbilt is unknown at this time.
Nate LaRue picked up three more starts at catcher for the weekend, giving him six starts in conference play, and went 0-11 with one walk and one run scored. Offensive production from the catching spot has been something of a problem for Auburn this season, with Ryan Dyal mired in a 3-22 slump dating back to Game 2 against Ole Miss and Jake Wyandt being seen as a defensive specialist, starting the season 0- 13 and currently being 9-36 with 14 strikeouts, 4 walks, and only 12 RBIs on the season.
Auburn is back in action at Regions Field in Birmingham as they take on UAB at 6:00 PM on Tuesday. The game is available for streaming on C-USA.TV, as well as audio available through the Auburn Athletics app or auburntigers.com