AU's Season Done As Tigers Fall To Georgia

Auburn fell to Georgia 3-2 on Thursday at Regions Park to not only eliminate the Tigers from the SEC Tournament, but also NCAA play.

Hoover, Ala.--In a fitting way to end and up and down season on the diamond, missed opportunities on offense and a costly defensive mistake proved to be the deathblow for the Auburn Tigers as they fell 3-2 to Georgia (29-29) on Thursday to bow out of the SEC Tournament and end the season at 29-29. Needing to be over .500 to qualify for NCAA Regional play, Coach John Pawlowski's club came up just short to bring a frustrating season to an end.

"Obviously when the season ends abruptly there are a lot of emotions going through our team right now," Pawlowski said. "It's obviously frustrating for a number of different reasons. I want to say how much I appreciate the effort of our team and how hard they played. Our backs were against the wall for a good part of the season and they kept battling. I'm proud of the way they handled themselves and the way they competed everyday.

"Looking at today's game I thought Derek Varnadore did a great job for us," he added. "He gave us everything he could possible give us. We certainly had some opportunities, but we got caught in some situations where we didn't put the ball in play. They ended up coming up with a couple of big hits. It's disappointing obviously."

Auburn starter Derek Varnadore gave the Tigers all they could hope for as he allowed just three runs on 10 hits in six and one/third innings to take the loss. After pitching a complete game shutout against Georgia just three weeks ago, Varnadore didn't allow a run until the fifth inning. He extended his scoreless streak to 14 1/3 against Georgia before a sixth inning double pushed across Georgia's first run. He took the loss to finish the year at 6-3 overall.

"When I started I felt great," Varnadore said. "I felt great all day. That's the best I've felt since the last time we played them. As the game went on my ball kept creeping up and it finally came back to bite me."

On the flip side Georgia's Alex Wood again had Auburn's number. Allowing just one earned run on eight hits in seven innings the first meeting this year, the big lefty was even better on Thursday. Allowing two runs on six hits in the first five innings, he didn't allow anything the rest of the way as the Tigers finished with just seven hits for the game. Still the Tigers had opportunities, including a first and third situation with nobody out, but couldn't score what would prove to be a huge run.

Senior Kevin Patterson was one of the players that came up with the runners in scoring position and didn't deliver. He said Thursday's game was just another in a long line of disappointments for the 2011 Tigers.

"It's very frustrating," Patterson said. "For me personally it was a very rough day. I had a first and third situation and worked a full count, but just couldn't get them in. When you miss opportunities like that against anybody in this league it's going to be tough to win. That's on me. I left that guy out there. That's kind of the way it went."

With just a Casey McElroy single to show for the first two innings, Auburn finally got something going against Wood in the top of the third as senior Justin Hargett singled with one out to put the Tigers in business. He was erased on a fielder's choice off the bat of Justin Hargett however to put a runner on first with two outs for Creede Simpson. Lining a pitch to right field the Auburn junior appeared to put the Tigers in business, but was thrown out by right fielder Peter Verdin to end the threat.

Creede Simpson is thrown out at second base.

With Varnadore cruising Auburn came back to the plate in the fourth looking to make something happen. It only took one swing of the bat for that to take place in a big way as McElroy hit a towering home run over the 405' mark in center field. The blast was his ninth of the season and gave the Tigers the 1-0 lead.

They weren't done though as catcher Tony Caldwell followed with a double to left-center to bring Wes Gilmer to the plate. Trying to bunt Caldwell to third, Gilmer's bunt had some backspin on it and caused Wood to have to lunge to field it. His throw to first sailed wide, putting runners on the corners with nobody out. In an all too familiar outcome Auburn failed to score as Patterson and Cullen Wacker struck out and Zach Alvord hit a ground ball to end the inning.

In the top of the fifth Auburn got a two-out walk from Simpson and a stolen base to move into scoring position for McElroy. With first base open the Bulldogs didn't give the shortstop anything to hit, deciding instead to take their chances with Caldwell. It proved to be a mistake as Caldwell laced a single into right field to score Simpson and make it 2-0. An error on the throw by Verdin allowed the runners to advance to second and third with Gilmer coming to the plate. Wood escaped the jam by getting a ground ball to end the inning, but Varnadore and the Tigers had a 2-0 lead going to the bottom of the fifth.

In control early the big right-hander ran into trouble for the first time as one-out singles by Curt Powell and Brandon Stephens gave the Bulldogs a pair of runners on with Verdin coming to the plate. Getting a ground ball to McElroy at short, he turned and threw to Hargett at second base. His turn and throw to first looked to be a little late, but first base ump Jeff Head called the runner out for the double play to end the inning.

Like it has done all season the runners left on base would prove costly to the Tigers as Georgia finally got on the board against Varnadore. Leading off the sixth Levi Hyams singled and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. A single by Kyle Farmer to right field put runners on first and third for left fielder Zach Cone and the veteran came through with a double to left. The hit scored Hyams to make it 2-1 Auburn, but there was more damage to come. With runners on second and third Varnadore got a ground ball to short, but McElroy's throw was errant. The error allowed both Farmer and Cone to score to give Georgia the 3-2 lead.

Auburn went quietly in the top of the seventh as Wood settled in after the trouble in the middle innings. However Varnadore wasn't as fortunate as he gave up a leadoff single to Verdin in the bottom of the seventh and a one-out single to Welton brought his day to a close as Smith came on in relief to try to stem the Bulldogs' rally. He was able to do that in the seventh and got out of a bases loaded jam in the eighth to give Auburn a shot to keep the season alive in the ninth inning, but Wood finished off the complete game to keep Georgia's hopes alive.

At the plate McElroy and Caldwell each had two hits while the rest of the Auburn team combined for three hits in 24 at-bats. For Georgia, Verdin had three hits as the number nine hitter while Welton, Powell and Stephens had two hits each. The 7-8-9 hitters for Georgia finished 7-12 on the day.


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