Leading 5-3 following a four-run seventh inning rally, Auburn's trio of Eric Brandon, Steven Register and Levale Speigner couldn't hold Alabama in check and the Tide escaped with the victory to remain in the winner's bracket of the SEC Tournament.
"I thought it was a heck of a baseball game," Auburn Coach Steve Renfroe said. "There were a few mistakes here or there, but I saw two teams getting after it in front of a great crowd. It got away from us in one inning. You have to tip your hat."
Trailing 3-1 heading to the top of the seventh inning, Auburn was looking for a spark at the plate and it came from designated hitter Karl Amonite. Facing Alabama starter Brent Carter, who gave up eight hits and five runs in six innings, Amonite drilled a single into right field to bring Scott Schade to the plate. Wearing a protective shield on his helmet to protect a broken bone in his face suffered before Thursday's game, Schade ripped a single into left field to bring the sizeable Auburn crowd to its feet.
Scott Schade is congratulated by his teammates after scoring a run in the seventh. He finished the day 1-4 with one RBI.
Asked to bunt to move the runners over, Clete Thomas did one better with a perfect bunt that he beat out for a single to load the bases. With still nobody out, shortstop Chuck Jeroloman came to the plate with scoring on his mind. In a trademark at-bat, Jeroloman earned a walk from Carter to force home Amonite and cut the lead to just one.
The run brought Carter's day to a close as veteran Taylor Tankersley came on in relief for the Crimson Tide. After pitching in Thursday's game, Tankersley came on to face pinch-hitter Kyle Bohm, who was batting for starter Josh Todd. Jamming Bohm, he forced a ground ball back to the mound, but in his haste to get the ball to the plate he dropped it. The error allowed everyone to reach safely and Schade to score the tying run.
One out later the Tigers took the lead when Javon Moran singled to left to score both Thomas and Jeroloman.
With Brandon on the mound and looking good, Auburn went to work in the bottom of the eighth inning hoping to secure a win, but Alabama had other ideas. The inning started eerily for the Tigers as Brandon struck out Adam Pavkovich, only to see him reach base when the ball went to the screen on what was ruled a wild pitch. Watching every pitch intently, including two very close pitches with two strikes, Beau Hearod walked to signal the end of Brandon's day.
Eric Brandon gave up two runs on two hits in one and one/thirds innings.
"That's a tough thing to get the leadoff hitter on a strikeout and he gets on base," Renfroe said. "Then you're facing Hearod. I thought Beau had a great at-bat to get a walk. Then the next at-bat, it was 3-2 with runners on first and second. You have to challenge a guy there. I thought he did a great job."
Auburn's top reliever and one of the top closers in the country, Register was clearly not sharp from the outset after throwing over 30 pitches on Thursday. Working against Zac Welch, Register left a breaking ball up over the plate and Welch drilled it into left field. Trying to make the spectacular catch, Sean Gamble made a dive for the ball and it bounced just in front of him and rolled almost to the wall in left. The mistake allowed both runners to score to tie the game and Welch cruised into second for a double.
A passed ball one batter later allowed Welch to move to third with still just one out. Designated hitter Nathan Meiners, batting just over .180 in conference play, then came through with Alabama's biggest hit. With the infield drawn in, he lifted a pitch just over Jeroloman's head into short left field that scored Welch with the go-ahead run. Following a Schade error and a walk to Allen Rice to load the bases, Evan Bush closed out the scoring on a deep ground ball to Jeroloman. Auburn failed to threaten in the ninth and dropped the 7-5 decision.
In the first the Tigers threatened off Carter, but came up empty. Leading off, Gamble singled to left field on an inside-out swing. Following a Moran fly out to center field, Hulett caught the Alabama defense off guard and put down a perfect push bunt. Coming off the mound, Carter couldn't field the ball cleanly and Hulett reached first without a throw. With Bush charging at third, that left nobody covering the bag and Gamble saw that. Running from second, he got in a footrace with Carter to the bag and lost, getting tagged out for the second out of the inning. A Huddleston ground out put an end to the Auburn threat, a chance the Tigers would later regret not taking advantage of vs. the Tide.
Moran led the way at the plate for the Tigers with two hits and two runs batted in. Amonite also added a pair of singles in the game while Thomas had two hits as well. Auburn outhit Alabama 10-9 in the game, but couldn't earn the win. Auburn starter Colby Paxton gave up six hits and three runs in five and one/third innings.
Both Auburn starter Colby Paxton and Carter cruised the rest of the way until the fourth inning. Huddleston, leading off, hit a slow roller to Pavkovich at short. Rushing his throw, Pavkovich threw the ball into the photographer's area next to the Alabama dugout and Huddleston advanced to second with nobody out.
Following a pop up by Amonite to third base, Huddleston advanced to third with Hulett at the plate when Carter threw a wild pitch. That proved to be huge as he scored just moments later on a Schade groundout. Leading 1-0, Auburn sent Paxton back to the mound to keep the Tide at bay. It wouldn't happen that way.
After three hitless innings to start the game, Paxton lost his edge in the fourth and that's all it took for Alabama to break things open. Travis Garner earned a walk to open the frame and things unraveled quickly from there. Jumping on an inside fastball, Pavkovich drilled a ground ball just inside the bag at third base for a double that put runners on second and third with nobody out. Getting ahead of Hearod 0-2, Paxton committed the cardinal sin of pitching and left the pitch up in the strike zone. Hearod made him pay with a single to left to score both and give Alabama the lead.
Things could have actually been worse, but the Tigers were helped out when Hearod tried to swipe second base and was thrown out by Huddleston for the first out of the inning. Welch earned a walk from Paxton to put another runner on base and Ryan Beagle singled to left-center to give Alabama runners on the corners. One out later the Crimson Tide added to the lead when Lyons singled to left to score Welch from third.
Leading 3-1 with Carter on the mound, Alabama appeared to have the upper hand, but things were far from over in this game. The game was just getting interesting for the crowd of well over 10,000, but when the smoke cleared Alabama advanced with the win.
"We're going to get a lot of rest tonight and we'll be ready to play hard in the morning," Moran said. "It stings a little bit because it's Alabama. We just have to bounce back and play our game. The rest will show for itself. It's a lot of motivation to play them (face Alabama again on Saturday). We're just trying to make it through the next game."
Auburn drops into the loser's bracket where it will face the South Carolina Gamecocks at 10 a.m. Saturday morning for the right to play Alabama again later in the day. Sophomore left-hander Arnold Hughey will take the mound for the Tigers against left-hander Matt Campbell for the Gamecocks. Campbell is 5-3 with a 3.88 ERA this season in 12 starts.
On the other side of the bracket the winner of the LSU-Mississippi State game will be off until late Saturday night while the loser faces Ole Miss Saturday at 1 p.m.