STARKVILLE, Ms. – With two outs at the end of the ninth, Bryson Ware threw the potential tie at home plate and No. 17 Auburn won the series finale at Mississippi State, 3-2, on Saturday at Dudy Noble Field.
“We needed one”, head coach Butch Thompson mentioned. “We tried to tell our guys that the man or woman who never gives up is hard to beat. We hung on.”
The win marked Auburn’s 13th victory this season.
“I was really interested in that third game with Joseph, and we overcame a lot,” added Thompson. “Recovery isn’t a word I want to hear. We’ve fought and fought to get one. Three of the last four weeks we’ve been on the road in the SEC and this tough team stays on top. .500 in this tough league at the halfway mark.”
SEC Title Pitcher of the Week Joseph Gonzalez (5-0, 2.01) produced another gem, earning the win while holding Mississippi State to two runs on seven scoreless hits and six strikeouts in 8.0 innings.
“It was pretty much the same plan as last week, which was to throw in the zone and trust my stuff,” Gonzalez said.
Leading 2-0 in six innings, Auburn (24-12, 8-7 SEC) scored two runs to tie the game in the top of the seventh before Brooks Carlson drove in the winning run on a double RBI pinch hit down the right field line to score Bobby Pierce and take a 3-2 lead in the eighth.
“It was a great way to end a game and a series,” Carlson said. “Even though we only got one, it was huge for our confidence to come back with a road win in the SEC.”
After the go-ahead in the top of the eighth, Gonzalez pulled the Bulldogs out to complete his outing late in the period. It was his third consecutive quality start in as many league appearances.
Auburn left two runners in the top of ninth, and Blake Burkhalter came on in relief to close out his eighth game of the year, the best in the SEC.
Mississippi State (21-16, 6-9 SEC) walked and moved the runner to second on a sacrificial bunt. Burkhalter then earned a strikeout to save the second out of frame before the dramatic final play. Brad Cumbest hit a line to the left, and Ware charged, picked up and shot to Nate LaRue to the plate, marking the runner just before his slide.
“I knew he hit hard enough and I had a chance to bring him home, but I had to charge him pretty hard,” Ware said. “The grass was slippery and it kind of slipped through my fingers, but luckily I got it low enough to catch it in time.”
It was the first time Auburn had won a game making the endgame at home plate since 2017.
“We had a few chances in the start of the ninth,” added Thompson. “Ware hit, but he never gave up. I’ve never been so proud that a boy from Mississippi came back and made a pitch right there.”
Mississippi State took the lead for the third straight day, scoring on a pair of solo homers from Hunter Hines and Kellum Clark in the second inning.
The Tigers put six baserunners on board in the first four innings, including two one-out baserunners in the first and third, but couldn’t capitalize on early opportunities.
Gonzalez struck out 13 of the next 16 batters he faced after solo homers with one batter reaching on an error.
Auburn had its best opportunity to get on the scoreboard in sixth. Cam Hill hit a first double and Brody Moore drew a march with Hill dropping to third on wild terrain. However, Mississippi State starter Cade Smith emerged unscathed from the round.
After Gonzalez worked his second straight inning in the sixth, Auburn broke through and tied the game with two runs in the top of the seventh. Kason Howell started the scoring with a double RBI left, his 13th of the season, and the Tigers tied the game as Hill found a hole in the infield to score Howell from second.
Gonzalez worked around traffic on the base paths in the seventh, blocking a pair of runners to keep the score tied, 2-2, with a ground ball late in the inning.
The Tigers took advantage of a first base runner as Peirce grounded a fly ball that snuck into right field to start the eighth. LaRue sacrificed Peirce for second, and the Tigers took their first lead of the game on Carlson’s RBI double, ultimately proving to be the difference.
Auburn returns to Plainsman Park for five games next week, starting with a pair of midweek contests against Alabama State and Kennesaw State on Tuesday and Wednesday at 6 p.m. CT.