Auburn outlasts Iowa closing the first day of Jax Baseball Classic

Mason Manners prepares for a pitch from Brody Brecht in the fifth inning. Photo by Nicholas Leo.

By Nick Leo

Hawkeye starting pitcher Brody Brecht kept the ball after pitching coach Sean McGrath visited him on the mound in the sixth inning. He’d finish the inning, and then allow a one-run homer in the first at-bat he faced in the seventh as the Auburn Tigers took on Iowa on Friday, Feb. 23, of the Jax College Baseball Classic in Jacksonville’s 121 Financial Ballpark.

In a blink, it went from even to a two-run ballgame. The Tigers Bobby Pierce would stripe a two-run shot over the right-field wall, giving the Auburn faithful in the crowd a reason to scream their loudest on the day.

Auburn bats played a waiting game, and patience paid off. They’d escape an early deficit and defeat Iowa (2-3) by a score of 5-7, powered by much-improved late-game pitching and hitting.

“There was a miscommunication in the bullpen. Just wanted to make sure the guy was ready because that was Brody’s last hitter,” Iowa head coach Rick Heller said in reference to the initial mound visit.

Nothing but praise for the Iowa ace, as opposing coach Butch Thompson noted how at-bats improved dramatically following his exit, crediting the Tigers’ slow start to Brecht.

“His breaking ball was so good, it was a ball over and over again, and everyone will chase every now and then. But every right-hander saw it as a strike, and that’s where it’s different,” Thompson said.

Auburn opened with a rocky start, pitcher Chase Allsup allowed four Iowa batters to reach base in the first; driving in a run with a bases-loaded walk. In the second, he’d give up a triple to the Hawkeyes’ Kyle Huckstorf who was then sac-bunted home.

“The first two times through the order we had 12 quality at-bats against Allsup. But to tip your hat to him, he avoided the big inning. We had a lot of traffic but never got the big hit to break it open,” Heller said.

Overall struggling with command of the zone, Allsup handed the ball over to John Armstrong in the fourth inning who’d finish with a better outing.

“I think because we didn’t quit or get overly frustrated, we were ready to have a good at-bat,” Thompson said.

In a game that felt like Iowa could do no wrong, Tiger bats woke up at the right time. First baseman Ike Irish, backed by a flock of chirps imitating Finding Nemo seagulls, would drive in a Mason Maners run from second base.

“We just had some embarrassing at-bats, our right-handers, we thought a lefty might help us,” Thompson said. “I thought our lefties had a little better at-bats but we just hung in there.

Slowly inching their way back into things as they continued shutting down the Iowa offense, Auburn elected to change pitchers again, this time going to Cam Tilly. He’d record the win, and finish with three Ks and no runs earned. 

“Being able to land that second pitch, land that breaking ball, as a freshman in a game like this where it really matters and means something,” Thompson said. “We’re really high on him and he did nothing but prove that even more.”

The fans in attendance, most here three hours early due to the previous game’s weather delay, were effective in boosting their teams’ morale and diminishing the opponents. Most prominent through the stretch in the seventh and eighth innings where Tigers fans made Hawkeye pitches seem like beachballs, stealing momentum and blasting three home runs in the process. 

“Manners hit that home run, immediately tie the game, and you’re like okay we’re back in this ball game,” Thompson said.

Auburn closer Will Cannon on the mound in the ninth inning of Friday’s contest. Photo courtesy of @jaxcbc via Instagram.

That would spark an Auburn fire that could not be put out by the Iowa bullpen, as another inning-opening home run was launched by Christian Hall in the eighth. Later in the inning, a sac-fly RBI to knock in Javon Hernandez bolstered the Tigers’ lead to four runs.

The game would close with a two-out, two-run Hawkeyes homer that cut the deficit in half. Instilling hope in the well-traveled Iowa crowd; before taking it from them the very next at-bat. Ending the game on a ground out to short, and securing the Tigers’ (6-0) second win in Jacksonville.

The 3-day tournament runs Feb. 23-25 and features college baseball teams from Virginia, Wichita State, Auburn and Iowa.

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