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April 26, 2013

Cruising in Columbia


COLUMBIA, Mo. | Garrett Cooper hit leadoff home runs in the fourth and sixth innings as the Auburn baseball team claimed a 3-1, series-opening win over Missouri on Friday night at Taylor Stadium. The win improved Auburn's record to 25-16, 7-12 SEC while Missouri fell to 13-24, 5-14 SEC.

Cooper, who came in as the team leader with four home runs, took a 1-0 Rob Zastryzny offering over the wall in center in the fourth and an 0-2 pitch out to left for Auburn's first two-homer game by an individual since Brian Fletcher blasted two in the 18-4, SEC West-clinching win at Ole Miss on May 21, 2010.

"The fastball was up and I put a good swing on it," Cooper said of his fourth-inning shot. "(In the sixth) He left the 0-2 curveball in the middle of the plate and I kind of got fooled but I kept my hands back and luckily got barrel on it."

The two home runs made a winner out of Conner Kendrick (3-2), who went a career-long 8 1/3 innings and tied his career-high with eight strike outs. With the win, he became the first Auburn starting pitcher other than Michael O'Neal to pick up a win since Rocky McCord got the win over Brown on March 10.

"When I was down on some pitches I could pick myself back up with a little off-speed and that kept the hitters off balance a little bit," Kendrick said. "I threw some good curveballs tonight but my go-to pitch was my change-up."

"Conner did an outstanding job," Auburn Head Coach John Pawlowski said. "He has a way to maneuver out of some trouble. He put himself into some trouble situations but he made some really big pitches. When he needs to make a really big pitch he has three weapons to use. He has a fastball, a breaking ball and a change-up and I thought he did an outstanding job with some help by our defense."

Terrance Dedrick earned his team-leading fifth save, inducing a 6-3 double-play out of pinch hitter Scott Sommerfeld, the only hitter he faced, to end the game.

Zastryzny took the loss despite striking out a season-high 11 in eight innings. He was charged for all three Auburn runs on eight hits and three walks.

Patrick Savage's first inning double gave Auburn a 1-0 lead. Cullen Wacker had hit a single and Cooper moved him to third with a single of his own, with all three hits coming with two outs in the inning.

Missouri tied it at 1-1 in the bottom of the second on Keaton Steele's third home run of the year, a leadoff shot that got caught up in the wind that was blowing out to left.

Blake Austin had his 35th caught stealing by in Missouri's fourth, tying Bobby Huddleston (2000-03) for fourth in Auburn history. The strong-armed backstop also picked a man off first in Missouri's half of the third with the bases loaded.

Auburn will try to clinch the series at 2pm on Saturday. Left-hander Michael O'Neal (8-2) will get the starting nod for Auburn while Missouri will throw right-hander Brett Graves (0-5).

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