Newcomer Nelson impressive in Auburn debut, helps Tigers win series

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Zero runs, three hits, a standing ovation.

How’s that for a first impression, Cole Nelson?

“It felt great,” the 6-foot-7 lefthander said matter-of-factly. “I face our hitters and I figure our hitters are some of the best in the country. If I can face our hitters and see them all the time, then I can do all right against the rest of the country.”

The first Auburn starter to get past the fifth inning this season, Nelson worked 6 1/3 scoreless innings to help the Tigers beat Southeast Missouri easily, 6-1, before 2,109 fans on a sun-drenched Sunday at Plainsman Park.

And even though the weekend began with Auburn’s first Opening Day loss since 1998, it ended with a series victory – something it wasn’t able to do last year against Elon.

“We came out on championship Sunday and they played well,” coach John Pawlowski said, repeating a mantra he uses for rubber matches in weekend series. “Give them the credit. They came back after a tough Friday night and won two games in a row.”

Nelson, on Sunday, probably deserved the most.

Nelson allowed just three singles – the first coming on his first career pitch—and only once faced five batters in an inning. His strength lied in forcing SEMO to pound the ball in the ground, using a mix of fastballs, sliders and change-ups, which resulted in 11 groundball outs.

His only real trouble of the game came in the fifth inning, when he walked three batters. Nelson picked off the first, Louie Haseltine, but walked Kenton Parmley and Taylor Heon on back-to-back at-bats to prompt a meeting at the mound with Pawlowski.

Michael Adamson worked Nelson to a 2-2 count after five pitches before grounding out to end the inning. Nelson cruised from there, retiring the next four batters in order before he was pulled with one out in the sixth inning for pitch-count reasons.

“It was really kind of frustrating that I walked them,” Nelson said. “I felt like I should have had both of them. To make a couple of good pitches when I needed to was good for my confidence.”

Nelson, a Des Moines Area Community College transfer from Edina, Minn., threw 94 pitches, 56 for strikes.

“I was hoping he could give us a chance to win and go out there and throw strikes,” Pawlowski said. “That’s pretty impressive for a first outing against a very good team.”

Auburn needed just three singles off SEMO starter Jordan Underwood, one per inning, to pick up runs in the second, third and fourth.

Wes Gilmer and Dan Gamache, respectively, delivered two-out, RBI singles in the second and third innings. Creede Simpson’s bases-loaded walk in the fourth inning plated Justin Bryant before SEMO’s Corey Harness worked his way out of the jam by forcing Hunter Morris to pop out and Brian Fletcher to strike out.

Bryant’s RBI double followed by an RBI single from Ryan Jenkins gave the Tigers two more runs in the fifth inning before Fletcher’s solo home run in the sixth.

The Tigers, who set a program-record with 103 home runs in 2009, hit just three over the weekend – all solo shots – but still averaged nearly eight runs per game.

“Obviously, we have a lot of things to work on,” Pawlowski said. “With all this team’s been through for the last week-and-a-half, I liked the way they came out mentally.”

Injury update
Pawlowski said centerfielder Justin Fradejas will likely be out “for a while” after injuring his hand Friday. Fradejas will see a hand specialist in Birmingham today, Pawlowski said.

Second baseman Justin Hargett played through some pain Sunday and will be examined by Auburn’s doctors today, as he took a groundball off the tip of his finger during Sunday’s warmups. Hargett went 0-for-5 with two strikeouts.

Shortstop Casey McElroy, who missed the weekend with a broken middle finger on his throwing hand, could return Friday against Missouri, but “that’s probably as close to a Friday decision as possible,” Pawlowski said.

(Photo credit: Leffie Dailey)

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