Auburn beats Kentucky as Julien delivers walk-off
HOOVER, Ala. - Freshman designated hitter Edouard Julien delivered a walk-off single and lifted No. 21 Auburn to a 4-3 win in the 11th inning against Kentucky to open the SEC Tournament Tuesday afternoon at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium.
With runners on first and second and one out, Julien stepped to the plate 0-for-4 with three strikeouts on the day and laced a full-count pitch into left-center field to score pinch runner Cade Evans from second base and send his teammates pouring out of the first base dugout in elation. The walk-off win was Auburn’s (38-19, 15-15 SEC) first in the SEC Tournament since 1999.
“We hadn’t had one like this in a while,” said assistant coach Gabe Gross. “It’s so good for our guys to be locked into a struggle with another team and swap blows. Then (Edouard), he’s struggled a little bit against left-handed pitching this year, but came through in a big way.”
After Kentucky (34-22, 13-17 SEC) got the first out in the frame, Brett Wright ripped a one-out single back up the middle and Brendan Venter followed with a walk to move the game-winning run into scoring position in the form of Evans. Julien then stepped to the plate against Kentucky reliever Zach Thompson (2-1, 5.17) and the rest was history.
“Coach Gross told me to focus on this at-bat and forget everything that’s happened,” Julien said. “I just wanted to put the ball in play, anything that could’ve helped the team win. I’m glad I was able to do that. I have no words for it. It’s unbelievable right now. It’s probably the biggest hit I’ve had in my life and I’m happy I did it for the team.”
Kentucky was the first to strike as Kole Cottam hit a one-out home run in the top of the first inning, but it didn’t take long for the Tigers to respond. Will Holland turned on a 2-2 pitch and hammered it down the left-field line to quickly tie things back up. It was Holland’s sixth leadoff extra-base hit in the last nine games - three doubles and three home runs.
After freshman starter Jack Owen got into some trouble with three walks in the third inning but was bailed out on a diving double play by Holland, sophomore right-hander Davis Daniel entered the game with two outs and runners on the corners and got the Tigers out of the jam as he retired Luke Heyer swinging to end the threat.
The Tigers jumped ahead on a pair of two-out knocks in the bottom of the third. Steven Williams laced a RBI single to right field before Wright followed with a RBI double into the gap in right center three pitches later to make it a 3-1 ballgame.
Kentucky cut into the lead with a run in the fifth and threatened to tie the game in its next at-bat. Daniel buckled down to get Pompey swinging on a full-count fastball and strand the potential tying run at third.
With the score still 3-2, Daniel allowed a leadoff double in the top of the ninth and gave way to freshman right-hander Cody Greenhill (4-2, 1.49). A sac bunt moved the tying run to third, and Greenhill got a big strikeout for the second out. However, down to the last strike, Cottam hit a RBI double into the gap in right-center to tie the game.
Greenhill worked a scoreless 10th and sat the Wildcats down in order in the 11th before giving way for Julien’s aforementioned theatrics.
The Tigers live to see another day in the SEC Tournament and will take on No. 2 seed Ole Miss (42-14, 18-12 SEC) Wednesday at approximately 1 p.m. CT. Auburn will send freshman right-hander Tanner Burns (5-4, 3.33) to the mound opposite the Rebels’ Ryan Rolison (8-4, 3.95).