Hunter Kelley hit a two-run home run in the bottom of the third and Garrett Cooper hit a three-run shot in a four-run fifth as the Auburn baseball team claimed a 6-3 win over Alabama on Friday night to even the three-game series at a game each. The win improves Auburn's record to 16-11, 1-7 SEC while Alabama fell to 17-11, 6-2 SEC.
"It was important for us to get that lead," Auburn Head Coach John Pawlowski said. "We finally got some things to go our way. Hunter Kelley came up with a big two-run home run and Garrett Cooper, who has been swinging the bat really well, came up big for us today."
Michael O'Neal (5-2) gave the Auburn pitching staff just what it needed as he went 7 2/3 innings to earn his first SEC win. The southpaw surrendered an unearned run in the first and two more in the eighth as he was able to scatter eight Alabama hits in his outing without walking any hitters. At one point he retired 10 straight Alabama hitters, starting with the final hitter of the first through the final hitter of the fourth.
"You have to tip your cap to O'Neal, as he did a really good job on the mound for Auburn," Alabama head coach Mitch Gaspard said. "The fourth inning was the big blow as Cooper hit the three-run home run to make it a big deficit. I thought our guys did a good job in the back of the game, competing and battling to give ourselves a chance."
"It's Alabama and you want to win, especially having lost seven straight in the SEC," O'Neal said. "We have not been playing well lately and everything bad that could happen bad happen to us. It was finally nice to have that night where when Hunter takes it deep you just know we are going to win. It's just nice to get that win and get that monkey off our back."
"We had some momentum going our way and when you have a guy on the mound like Michael O'Neal, who is just a strike thrower, he misses barrels and did a great job," Pawlowski said.
Kelley, hitting ninth, gave Auburn its first lead in SEC play in the bottom of the third when he stroked a 1-1 pitch over the wall in left for his first home run of the season, a two-run shot following a Blake Austin walk.
Two innings later Auburn got to Alabama starter Jon Keller (3-3) again as it had three hits and two walks to take a 6-1 lead. Kelley drew a one-out walk to get the inning started, went to third on a Ryan Tella single and scored on a Jordan Ebert single. Cooper then stepped to the plate and smashed a ball to dead center for his second home run of the season and his first since opening weekend.
"I was looking for a ball up and he threw me a fastball right over the plate," Cooper said. "As soon as I hit it I knew it was getting out of here. Last night I came up with the bases loaded and hit into a double play. Tonight was a different story."
Alabama would not go away quietly, scoring two more unearned runs in the eighth on a Booth sac fly and an Austen Smith RBI single to cut the deficit to three.
With two down in the eighth following the Smith single, Pawlowski called on Tuscaloosa native Terrance Dedrick to get the final four outs. The right-hander needed three pitches to get Kyle Overstreet to ground into a fielder's choice to end the inning.
"I just had to get up there and throw strikes and keep the ball low," Dedrick said of coming in in the eighth. "It was a very exciting moment for me but the only thing on my mind was to not let them get a good swing on the ball and not let that runner in."
In the ninth, Mikey White led off with a single but Dedrick got pinch hitter Cameron Carlisle to ground into the 3-6-1 double play and then struck out pinch hitter Andrew Miller to nail down his second save of the season.
Alabama went up 1-0 in the first when Brett Booth hit a two-out RBI double.
The two teams will play the rubber match at 3pm on Saturday. Left-hander Will Kendall (0-1) will start on the mound for Auburn while Alabama will start right-hander Spencer Turnbull (2-1). The game will air live on CSS.