AUBURN, Ala. – No perfect game, no no-hitter, no shutout, no complete game, but no problem for Vanderbilt stud starter Kevin Ziomek, shutting down host Auburn in the No. 2-ranked Commodores’ 5-2 victory Friday night at Plainsman Park.
2,489 fans came out to see Opening Night of the SEC schedule, and were treated to an old-fashioned pitcher’s duel – at least for the last six innings. Two early home runs by the heart of the order gave Vanderbilt (17-2, 1-0 SEC) all the run support Ziomek (5-0) would require, going 8 1/3 innings and taking a perfect game into the sixth before a four-pitch walk to catcher Blake Austin.
“I thought he executed his changeup a little bit more today, to complement that breaking ball,” Pawlowski said. “When you have those two pitches going for you, it’s tough, and he did a very good job with a three-pitch mix tonight.”
Conrad Gregor sent a two-out, solo shot over the right-field bullpen to greet Auburn starter Daniel Koger (0-1), and Mike Yastrzemski added an RBI double in the first.
Connor Harrell socked a 3-run homer in the third, and the rout appeared to be on.
“The difference was they had a couple big swings,” Auburn coach John Pawlowski said. “Good teams are going to take advantage of some mistakes.”
However, Koger settled down brilliantly, and his bullpen (Jay Wade and Will Kendall) was even sturdier, as Auburn’s staff retired the final 20 Commodore hitters it faced.
“We’ve done that all year – we’ve been behind a bunch and we’ve always come back and fought,” junior outfielder Ryan Tella said. “We’re a fighting group. We won’t give up. There’s nine innings to play.”
Tella ruined Ziomek’s no-hit bid in the seventh, and the Tigers tacked on one run each in the eighth and ninth innings, snapping Ziomek’s attempt at a third consecutive complete game.
Jordan Ebert singled home Austin and Garrett Cooper had a deep sacrifice fly to center to produce Auburn’s offense, the first time Ziomek has allowed multiple runs in a start.
“Took us a while to piece it together,” Tella said, “but we finally made an adjustment and got to him.”
But Damek Tomscha struck out with a runner on and the tying run on deck, awarding Vandy the series-opening victory and Brian Miller his fifth save.
“We’re one hit away from getting the tying run to the plate, after being down 5-0,” Pawlowski said. “So I’m encouraged by the way they kept playing hard to the final out.”
Both teams had five hits.
Wade pitched a scoreless seventh and eighth, while Kendall made his second relief appearance in his return from Tommy John surgery.
Auburn (13-4, 0-1) hosts game two Saturday at 3:15 p.m. ET, with Pacelli grad Michael O’Neal (4-0, 1.40 ERA) going against Tyler Beede (4-0, 1.07).