HOOVER, Ala. (WIAT) — For the third straight year and fourth straight appearance, Auburn won its SEC Tournament opener, beating Tennessee 5-3 Tuesday at the Hoover Met.
Judd Ward homered and drove in three runs, and winning pitcher Bailey Horn (3-0, 6.83) struck out a season-high six batters in four innings of relief, his longest outing of the season.
“We just felt like these last couple of games the season was on the line and you need them,” head coach Butch Thompson said. “We’ve gotten used to playing close ball games for a while. I think if the guys can settle the nerves and continue to play they can have success in the moment. That’s a good thing for a coach to see out of a ballclub.”
Horn retired 11 straight Volunteers (38-19) from the sixth until the ninth inning, until Zach Daniels’ solo homer with one out in the ninth made it 5-3.
“That’s definitely what I have been striving for throughout the year,” Horn said. “Obviously coming back from surgery it’s just part of the process. I listened to my coaches to understand what to do. Overall, this is what I have been striving for throughout the season.”
Cody Greenhill relieved Horn and, after hitting a batter on his first pitch to bring the potential tying run to the plate, retired Christian Scott on a deep fly to right that Steven Williams caught on the warning track. Greenhill then struck out Jay Charleston, earning his 10th save of the season.
Ward’s seventh-inning blast to right field scored Kason Howell, giving the Tigers a three-run cushion.
“I’ve been watching this tournament since I was born,” Ward said. “I love this tournament. Coming out here and competing in it and being able to be a part of it, it’s one of the best feelings in the world—especially with the atmosphere we brought tonight with all the fans. It was awesome.”
The sophomore outfielder gave the Tigers the lead two innings earlier on a perfectly-executed safety squeeze that scored Edouard Julien from third and resulted in a base hit. A four-pitch walk to Ryan Bliss loaded the bases, but Tennessee’s Garrett Stallings recorded back-to-back strikeouts to escape further damage.
Elliott Anderson started for Auburn (33-23) struck out six in four innings, allowing two runs on three hits. Will Morrison relieved Anderson in the fifth with runners on the corners and no outs, retiring the only Volunteer he faced.
Horn followed, allowing an inherited runner to score from third but retiring the Vols with no further damage. The redshirt sophomore lefty struck out the side in the seventh and fanned two more in the eighth.
After Tennessee struck first for a run on a sacrifice fly in the top of the first, the Tigers answered with two in the bottom of the second. Matt Scheffler started the rally with a single off the third baseman’s glove, and Rankin Woley followed with a walk. With the runners moving with two outs, Julien’s blooper to shallow center resulted in a double and plated Scheffler and Woley to put Auburn up 2-1.
Tennessee scored on Horn’s wild pitch in the top of the fifth to make it 2-2, but Auburn would score three unanswered runs, all driven in by Ward as previously mentioned, and ultimately win the game by two.
Julien and Ward each had two hits for the Tigers and drove in a combined five runs.
Auburn pitchers fanned 13 batters in the game, with a combined 12 strikeouts coming from Anderson and Horn.
The Tigers advance to the double-elimination format of the tournament and will play Vanderbilt (45-10) Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. CT on SEC Network.