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March 31, 2012

Auburn knocks off Mississippi State 10-6 Saturday to even the series

Photo by Todd Van Emst

AUBURN, Ala. — Jay Gonzalez has been looking for a way to break his slump.

Perched at the top of the lineup as Auburn’s leadoff hitter, Gonzalez had been unable to get anything going in SEC play, and the lack of a leadoff presence on base was hurting the Tigers’ offensive production.

Gonzalez may be on his way out now after kick-starting Auburn’s 10-6 win over Mississippi State in the second game of a three-game series at Plainsman Park Saturday.

Auburn (16-11, 5-3 SEC) bounced back from Friday night’s loss by rolling up 12 hits and earning eight walks against the Bulldogs, and Gonzalez chipped in two hits and a walk at the top of the lineup.

“It was huge,” Gonzalez said. “We wanted to come out, jump on them early and end this game as fast as possible.”

Gonzalez came into Saturday’s game batting just .192 in SEC play, but he followed up two hits Friday night by singling in the first and scoring on a throwing error by Mississippi State catcher Mitch Slauter.

An inning later, Gonzalez laced an RBI single through the left side to score Kody Ortman and give the Tigers a 3-0 lead.

“It’s been really good for my confidence,” Gonzalez said. “We’ve been working on it a lot, I’d been pulling off a lot, and we’ve just been working on staying down.”

From there, Auburn’s offense — a team that had only scored more than four runs in a game once in SEC play — took over.

The Tigers added three runs in the third, an RBI double from Cullen Wacker in the seventh and a three-run homer from Blake Austin later in the seventh that all but put the game out of reach for Mississippi State (18-10, 3-5).

“I challenged our offense today,” Auburn coach John Pawlowski said. “I told them we’re better than what we’ve been doing, and we’ve got to be a little more opportunistic.”

Starter Will Kendall took care of the rest. Given a 6-0 lead to protect, Kendall pitched six scoreless innings before giving up a three-run Mississippi State rally in the seventh and giving way to Jay Wade.

Wade tossed two scoreless innings, gave up three runs in the ninth, and the Bulldogs briefly loaded the bases and brought the tying run to the plate in the ninth before Dillon Ortman struck out Hunter Renfroe to end the threat.

“For me, the offense scoring runs was a huge help,” Kendall said. “It gets me relaxed, gets me confident.”

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