MONTGOMERY, Ala. - Auburn jumped out to an early lead and ultimately got back in the win column with a 6-5 victory against South Alabama on Tuesday at Riverwalk Stadium.
The Tigers (14-6-1) scored five runs in the first four frames while freshmen hurlers Drew Nelson and Hayden Murphy held South Alabama (8-13) scoreless in the first six innings.
"I just like how a young player hangs in there and gets better over five weeks. It's nice to see growth," Thompson said of Nelson. "He got us off to a great start. All the way into the seventh, we had all freshmen on the mound and three more out there in the field. We're growing. We're still having moments, but that was really good for Drew to get us in the ballgame."
Making his first start since opening weekend, Nelson (1-1) earned his first collegiate win, pitching 4.0 scoreless innings while allowing only one hit with one walk and two strikeouts.
"I felt good," Nelson said. "I finally got to extend a little bit, so it felt good to be able to do that and put the team in a position to win.
"It's all about being able to adjust," Nelson said of his success of late. "I've been able to do just that. I've had help from (Coach Thompson) and (Coach Schoenrock) and everybody around really. It's gotten me to where I am now. I'm comfortable and I feel good."
Kason Howell's three-run homer in the third got the scoring started and marked his third homer in the last five games. The team captain finished a triple shy of the cycle with a season high four RBI.
"It was fun to play in this atmosphere. I love playing in Montgomery," Howell said. "It felt good to get a win tonight.
"I'm kind of simplifying things and just trying to get a good pitch to hit, be on time and let the results take care of themself" Howell added. "That's really where I'm at right now and it's working out. Hopefully I can just be consistent with it and keep it going."
After South Alabama climbed back into the game with a combined five runs in the seventh and eighth innings, Chase Isbell took the mound to start the ninth and retired the Jaguars in order to record his first save of the season.
An error, walk and hit batter loaded the bases for South Alabama in the top of the first, but Nelson worked around the traffic and stranded all three with a popup to short. The freshman lefty then retired the Jaguars in order in the second thanks to a diving catch from Justin Kirby in right field to end the inning.
After Nelson worked around a runner on third with one out in the third, Auburn started the scoring in the contest with Howell's three-run homer. Gavin Miller singled through the right side and Carter Wright singled through the left side to put a pair of runners aboard for Howell.
The Tigers added to their lead with a pair of two-out runs in the fourth. Wright collected his second hit in as many at-bats and drove in Kirby on a single to left center. Howell then stepped back up to the plate following his home run and ripped a single through the left side to make it a 5-0 ballgame.
Murphy entered in relief of Nelson to start the fifth and held South Alabama scoreless in his first two frames. However, the Jaguars got to the freshman righty with a walk and two-run homer to start the seventh. The next two batters reached, and John Armstrong entered with two on and nobody out and thwarted the threat by retiring the next three South Alabama hitters.
The Tigers tacked one on with a sacrifice fly from Cole Foster to score Howell and push the score to 6-2 in the bottom of the seventh, but South Alabama drew to within one on a two-run homer and solo homer with two outs in the eighth.
Armstrong ultimately got out of the inning with a strikeout, and Isbell closed the door in the ninth to improve the Tigers to 6-0 in midweek games this season.
Auburn continues Southeastern Conference play with a three-game series vs. Georgia (14-7, 0-3 SEC) Thursday-Saturday at Plainsman Park.