Alabama baseball has won its three-game series against Auburn for five consecutive years, but the Crimson Tide came up short of a series sweep against the Tigers Sunday at Sewell-Thomas Stadium, and conventional wisdom has it that Bama has a tough task to reach .500 in Southeastern Conference games.
Alabama is 12-12 in conference games following the Tide’s 8-1 loss to Auburn, and most believe that Bama could host an NCAA Regional with three wins in the final six games of the season. The difficulty is that Bama will be on the road this weekend at Arkansas, and then have to host powerful South Carolina in the final series of the season.
Alabama is 27-21 overall, thus assured of a regular season record of at least .500. Auburn improved to 21-26 overall, 8-16 in SEC games.
“Give Auburn credit today, as they jumped on (Nick Eicholtz) pretty quick,” said Alabama head coach Mitch Gaspard. “(Anfernee) Grier and (Melvin) Gray popped the first couple pitches they saw, and then (Niko) Buentello who had a really good weekend, followed suit. You look up after three innings and you’re down 5-0. I think they had a little flurry right there early and kind of jumped on us.”
Auburn got out to an early lead, scoring five runs in the first three innings to build a lead that the Crimson Tide could not come back from. Crimson Tide starter Nick Eicholtz (3-3) suffered the loss, tossing 6 1/3 innings and allowing six runs (four earned) on six hits and three walks with three strikeouts. After the rough start, Eicholtz retired 10 of the final 11 batters he faced before exiting the game. The Tigers added single runs off the Alabama bullpen in each of the final three innings to secure the 8-1 victory.
Auburn began the game with a two-run first inning. Grier’s leadoff single was followed by a double from Gray to make it 1-0 after two batters. One out later, a sacrifice fly to left by Buentello brought across the man from third to give the Tigers the 2-0 lead.
Auburn’s three-run third inning made it 5-0. A leadoff single and then a walk put two on before a bases-clearing double brought in the pair. An errant throw allowed the batter to move to third. A walk in the next at-bat put runners on the corners and a double steal brought home the fifth Tigers run.
Alabama scored its first run in the fifth. Chance Vincent led off with a single and advanced to second on a throwing error by the AU pitcher. A groundout to the right side moved Vincent to third before a wild pitch allowed him to score, making it 5-1.
Auburn would widen its lead with single runs in the seventh, eighth and ninth to make it an 8-1 game, the eventual final.
Alabama had 34 hits in the three games – most for the Tide in a series this season -- including 12 on Sunday.