Seth Smith banged out three hits and three runs batted in to lead Ole Miss while Clete Thomas contributed three hits, including his second home run of the season.
The loss drops Auburn into fourth place in the SEC West with Mississippi State's 11-8 victory over Alabama Friday night in Starkville. LSU wrapped up the overall SEC regular season title with a victory over Arkansas earlier in the night.
Auburn starter Colby Paxton did a commendable job Friday night, allowing five runs on eight hits in six and one/third innings. While spectacular at times, Paxton and reliever Cory Dueitt couldn't shut the door on the Rebels when they had the chance Friday night. On three different occasions, Auburn had chances to get out of the inning unscathed only to see Ole Miss break the game open. Auburn Coach Steve Renfroe said that was the difference on Friday.
"It was a very good baseball game except our pitching," Renfroe said. "We have to pitch with two outs, we have to get guys out and limit damage. You're facing two guys that haven't been hit all year by anybody and I thought we battled hard at the plate. I really thought we played well, but when you get the lead and go right out and give it up with two outs it hurts. It's just hard to climb back against a pitching staff like theirs. I thought that was the story of the game."
Even with everything stacked against them, the Tigers made a run at the victory in the ninth inning. Trailing 7-3 following a two-run double by Smith off Dueitt in the top of the ninth inning, Auburn needed a minor miracle facing Rebel reliever Stephen Head. With 12 saves on the season and an ERA under 1.00, Head had been nearly unhittable this season, but the Tigers gave him a late scare.
With one out in the inning, Thomas jumped on a 2-1 pitch and drove it deep over the right field wall for his second home run of the season. The hit seemed to give the Tigers some life when one out later, Chuck Jeroloman walked and Sean Gamble followed with a single through the right side. With runners on first and second and trailing by three, Javon Moran hit a ground ball to Ole Miss shortstop Matt Tolbert. Taking the short way out, Tolbert threw to third base, but his throw hit Jeroloman in the back of the helmet and careened towards the Auburn dugout to leave the bases loaded and Tug Hulett coming to bat.
With two hits on the night, Hulett had already delivered in clutch situations on the night. This time he was just looking for a good pitch to hit and bring Huddleston the plate. Getting ahead in the count 2-0, Hulett drove the pitch deep into left-center field, but it wasn't enough as Jonathan Swearingen tracked it down to end the game.
Both pitchers dominated the action early as neither team managed a run through the first two innings. Auburn had a chance in the first inning when Hulett and Huddleston had back-to-back singles with two outs, but were stranded when Karl Amonite flew out to right field to end the inning. The game remained scoreless until the third.
Leading off the inning, Jeroloman drew a walk from Beam to bring Gamble to the plate in a sacrifice situation. Trying for a base hit in addition to moving the runner up, Gamble's bunt was popped up to third baseman Brian Pettway for the first out of the inning. One out later, Hulett singled to right-center to bring Huddleston to the plate in a RBI situation. Showing why he's Auburn's leading run producer, Huddleston singled up the middle to score Jeroloman and give the Tigers the lead. The inning came to a close when Amonite struck out looking.
It didn't take long for the Rebels to answer back in a big way. Leading off the fourth, Smith drilled a double to the wall in right-center field. Following a fly out by Head to Moran in center and a Chad Sterbens pop up to Hulett at second, Paxton appeared to have the inning under control, but it wasn't to be. Taking a fastball the opposite way, Charlie Waite hit a fly ball that careened off the right field wall for a triple to score Smith from second. Pettway then bombed one over the monster in left field for a two-run home run. Just like that the Rebels led 3-1.
Auburn came back to score a run in the bottom of the inning when Thomas tripled to left-center with one out to give the Tigers a terrific scoring chance. They made it pay off as Scott Schade hit a shallow fly ball into right field that sent Thomas off and running with the catch. Justin Donovan's throw was just off line and Thomas slid in with the run to cut the Rebel lead to one heading to the fifth inning.
In the fifth Auburn gave up another two-out run on a strange play. With one out, Tolbert singled to right field and stole second to move into scoring position. Hitting a dribbler up the middle, Smith reached first and Tolbert kept running towards the plate. Catching the ball and firing home, Hulett appeared to have cut the runner down, but Huddleston couldn't hold on to the throw and Ole Miss once again led by two.
A Huddleston double to lead off the sixth led to an Auburn run to cut the lead back to one, but the trend continued as the Tigers gave it right back the next inning. Matt Mossberg led off the inning with a single through the left side and quickly stole second. Later in the inning with runners on first and third with one out, Renfroe replaced Paxton with Dueitt to try to get the double play. The move almost worked, but Smith's ground ball was too deep in the hole for Hulett and Jeroloman to turn two on and Mossberg scored.
Leading 5-3, Ole Miss would tack on two more in the ninth to set the stage for Auburn's failed comeback attempt.
The Tigers will send sophomore Arnold Hughey to the mound to face Brae Wright for Ole Miss in game two on Saturday. The game will be televised by SEC TV on Fox Sports Net South beginning at 3 p.m.