Auburn Claims Inaugural Classic Crown
Second-Largest Crowd in Riverwalk History Witnesses 8-7 Tigers’ Win
MONTGOMERY, AL – Overcoming a late-game blown-lead and a one-run deficit in the ninth inning, the Auburn Tigers bested the Alabama Crimson Tide, 8-7, in a thrilling inaugural Max Capital City Classic in front of a near record crowd of 7,489, at Riverwalk Stadium on Tuesday, March 10, 2009.
Auburn right fielder Ben Jones was named the Most Valuable Player of the inaugural game after completing a stunning turnaround for the Tigers in the top of the ninth inning by driving in Trent Mummey with the game-winning run.
The Tigers’ win was stunning due to the fact that Alabama had turned the tables on the Tigers with four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning, erasing what was a 6-3 Auburn lead and assuming a 7-6 lead. Left-hander Michael Hurst, who had been the first called out of the bullpen for Auburn, permitted a single to Ross Wilson to lead off the inning. Hurst, who had tossed 2 2/3 innings of scoreless relief prior to the eighth, then conceded a double to Vin DiFazio that scored Wilson to make it a two-run game, 6-4. Right-hander Taylor Thompson relieved Hurst, but was greeted by a Taylor Dugas double that brought the Tide within one run. Jake Smith then stepped in and momentarily gave Alabama the lead, with his third home run of the season. The drive, to dead-center field was Smith’s third of the year, and gave the Tide their first lead, 7-6. Right-hander Zach Blatt (1-0) entered for Auburn to keep it a one-run game, retiring three consecutive batters to end the inning
Alabama head coach Jim Wells called upon closer Jimmy Nelson to make the one-run lead stand up in the ninth, but Nelson allowed a triple off the wall to lead-off man Casey McElroy. Justin Hargett followed with a lined sacrifice fly to left field that tied the game, 7-7. The run was the first allowed by Nelson on the season. Mummey then sparked the Tigers game-winning rally with the double that preceded Jones’ game-winner, scorched down the right field line. Nelson (1-1), was tagged with his first loss of the season. Coming into the game, the Crimson Tide bullpen hadn’t allowed an earned run in 19 1/3 innings of relief.
The crowd of 7,489 was the second largest crowd to ever watch a game at Riverwalk Stadium, threatening the venue-record of 7,518 fans who witnessed the Montgomery Biscuits fall to the Jacksonville Suns, 7-11, on April 19th, 2008.
The Tigers had wasted no time electrifying that crowd as fans settled into their seats in the inaugural Classic, plating three runs off of Crimson Tide starter David Head in the first inning to take a 3-0 lead. The Tigers patiently built the rally due to wildness from Head, who was making his first start of the season for Alabama. Head walked the first two batters of the game, Mummey and Joseph Sanders, to find hot water immediately. Brent Jones then sent a single to load the bases with nobody out. Head managed to pop-out clean-up hitter Hunter Morris, but couldn’t get past Brian Fletcher, who blasted adouble high off the wall in left-center field to clear the bases and give the Tigers the first lead of the night.
Tigers’ starter Paul Burnside didn’t suffer the same issues in the first¸ enduring a couple of walks, but popping out Wilson to strand a pair of runners and keep the three-run lead for Auburn.
Head settled in and struck out the first two batters of the second, but made a mistake to Mummey, which Mummey ripped for his seventh home run of the season, increasing Auburn’s lead to 4-0.
An Auburn error opened the door for Alabama to climb back into the game in the bottom of the third. Alex Kubal reached on an error on Tigers’ second basemen Hargett and Burnside followed with a walk to Josh Rutledge. Burnside retired Brandon May and Clay Jones, leaving a two-out confrontation with the nation’s most prolific home run hitter, Kent Matthes. On a 2-2 fastball, Matthes sent a towering-drive over the batter’s eye in center field, marking his 10th home run of the season, and pulling the Tide within a lone run, 4-3. All three runs in the inning were unearned.
Kevin Patterson led off the Auburn fourth inning with a walk, signaling the end of the night for Head. Right-hander Austin Graham entered for the Tide, but allowed a single to Tony Caldwell that put two aboard with nobody out. Graham then committed a balk that moved the runners over to second and third. Patterson came in to score on a passed ball charged to Alabama catcher Kyle Moore to stretch the Tigers lead back to two runs, 5-3. Hargett then laid down a safety-squeeze bunt, resulting in a sacrifice and Caldwell coming home for a 6-3 Auburn lead. Head was charged with five earned runs in three innings on three hits and three walks.
Burnside worked into the fifth inning, before a pair of walks led to his departure after 4 1/3 innings. Hurst got out of the jam, stranding the bases loaded to preserve the three-run lead for the Tigers. Neither starter factored in the decision.
Mummey was a close second in MVP voting, having contributed three runs and a home run to the Auburn victory.
Blatt’s work in the eighth equated to a win, as he blew through the Tide in order in the bottom of the ninth to earn the victory over two innings. Blatt retired all six batters that he faced.
The two teams will meet in a three-game SEC series to close the regular season, May 14-16.
With a scintillating start to a new tradition, the two schools will play in the second Max Capital City Classic on March 9th, 2010.