Once again it was a case of Auburn struggling on the mound that doomed the Tigers as starter Cory Luckie lasted just one and one/third innings before the bullpen had to take over. Allowing three runs on three hits and walking five, Luckie's record dropped to 1-2 with the loss. Ethan Wallen, Sean Ray, Slade Smith and Dillon Ortman contributed to a day when the Tigers walked seven and hit two batters to go along with 12 hits for the Gamecocks.
"Cory battled but he just didn't have the command he's capable of," Pawlowski said. "I felt bad for Cory. We were hanging around. We had an opportunity. We kept the game close and ran a bunch of pitchers out there to try to keep it close and stay within striking distance. We did that, but unfortunately just couldn't come up with a big hit to generate some offense.
"We gave them some free bases, some walks and hit by pitches, and put ourselves in a tough spot," he added. "The first four or five innings we were in damage control every inning. Against good teams it's tough to do that over and over again."
On the flip side South Carolina's pitching was again solid as freshman starter allowed two runs on four hits in five innings and then turned things over to one of the best bullpens in the country. Tyler Webb allowed a run on two hits in one/third of an inning, but pitching the last three and two/third innings, John Taylor and Matt Price allowed just two hits and struck out five to seal the sweep for the 35-8 Gamecocks.
With the loss Auburn now finds itself in dire jeopardy in terms of NCAA Tournament play, standing just two games over .500. However the Tigers are still just a game out of first place in the SEC West at the moment and Pawlowski said there's still a lot of baseball left for his team.
"The guys are working hard," Pawlowski said. "They understand what we have to do and what we need to do to win. It's just frustrating for them. It's not a good feeling walking out of here losing three ballgames, but we've still got a lot of work to do. We have to keep our heads up and keep moving forward."
Just like has been the recipe for the Tigers this season it was again a struggle on the mound, this time with Luckie. Walking two in the first, the junior allowed a run to put the Gamecocks up early. Auburn answered back in the top of the second as Kevin Patterson walked to lead things off and moved to third on a single by Tony Caldwell. The third senior in a row, Wes Gilmer, hit a sacrifice fly to left field to score Patterson and tie the game at one.
Luckie's struggles continued in the second as Evan Marzilli singled and back-to-back walks to Adrian Morales and Robert Beary loaded the bases with nobody out. Auburn then got a break as DeSean Anderson pulled up while running to first base on a ground ball, allowing the Tigers to turn a double play.
Marzilli scored on the play however to make it 2-1 South Carolina. A single and another walk brought Luckie's day to a close however as Wallen came in with the Gamecocks leading 3-1 and two runners on. He managed to get the final out however to keep the Tigers within striking distance.
Auburn answered back in the top of the third as Justin Fradejas was hit by a pitch with one out and Cullen Wacker walked to put a pair on for Casey McElroy. Driving a pitch back up the middle, the junior drove in Fradejas for his 44th RBI on the season to make it a one-run game again. That's all the Tigers could muster however as Koumas got Patterson and Caldwell to end the inning.
South Carolina pushed the lead back out with a pair of runs in the fourth and another in the fifth to make it 6-2 going to the top of the sixth. Facing Webb, McElroy doubled to lead off the inning. Following a Patterson groundout, Caldwell walked to bring Gilmer to the plate. Once again the senior came through for the Tigers with a single through the left side that scored McElroy to cut the South Carolina lead down to three.
Unfortunately that's how things would stay as the Gamecocks brought in Taylor to face right-handers Brooks Beisner and Creede Simpson. A sidearm right-hander, Taylor got a ground ball and a strikeout to end the Auburn threat. Despite having three runs and six hits the Tigers had left five runners on base through the first six innings.
After that it was all South Carolina's bullpen as Taylor and Price made the lead stand up. Adding a run in the bottom of the eighth to make it 7-3, the Gamecocks looked to be in complete command, but Price walked pinch hitter Jay Gonzalez and Creede Simpson to open the ninth and give the Tigers some life.
Following a Justin Hargett strikeout, Fradejas singled to left field to load the bases for Cullen Wacker. Much like the rest of the weekend South Carolina's defense made the play with the game on the line as Wacker's line drive to Wingo at second and his toss to Mooney at the second base bag was good enough for the double play to end the threat and give South Carolina the sweep.
Auburn will return to action this weekend as the Tigers play host to the Georgia Bulldogs in a three-game series at Plainsman Park. Game times are 6 p.m. on Friday, 3 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday.