The loss eliminated Auburn from the tournament and closed the books on the pre-NCAA Tournament season with a 40-19 record. The Tigers now await Sunday's regional announcement from the NCAA, which will take place at 11:30 a.m. on ESPN2.
NCAA thoughts were far from the minds of the Tigers following the game as they fell apart after after staying close in the early innings. Behind the pitching of Cory Dueitt, Auburn was in a position to win the game. In the end a depleted pitching staff would do in Auburn. Head Coach Steve Renfroe said much of the blame for this loss can fall on his shoulders.
"Basically, we ran out of bullets," Renfroe said. "We had Cory. That's my fault, I did not run the game Friday night real well to help us. I hate I put the kids in that situation, but I did. We didn't have any bullets left so when Eric (Eric Brandon) didn't have it we were left with kids that had not pitched. You saw what happened. That was the story of the game."
As has been the case for much of the year, Auburn had trouble closing out opponents. With two outs and nobody on, Dueitt walked Adam Pavkovich to bring Beau Hearod to the plate. Fighting off a pitch, Hearod reached on an infield single and Pavkovich scored just moments later when Zac Welch singled to center field. Trailing 1-0, Auburn answered in the bottom half of the inning.
Cory Dueitt gave up five hits and two runs in four innings Saturday. He struck out four and walked two.
With one out and nobody on, Sean Gamble singled up the middle to bring Javon Moran to the plate. Auburn's hottest hitter in the tournament, Moran jumped on a Johnson pitch and drove it deep over the left field wall for a two-run home run. His fourth long ball of the season gave Auburn the lead, but it wouldn't last for long.
Once again Dueitt got the first two batters in the fourth, but Allen Rice gave the Crimson Tide some hope when he doubled to deep center field over the head of Moran. That proved to be big as number nine hitter Evan Bush, who was hitting .148 coming into the game, singled to left field to score Rice and tie the game at two. One inning later the game would go from close to over.
After pitching four innings, leaving the game tied at two, Dueitt turned the ball over to Brandon in the top of the fifth. With two good performances back-to-back, Brandon seemed like a good choice, but it would turn out to be the beginning of the end for the Tigers. Leading off the inning, Pavkovich pounded a Brandon 3-1 pitch deep over the left field wall for a home run to make the score 3-2.
One out later, a Tug Hulett error opened the flood gates for the Crimson Tide as Ryan Beagle singled to right field to put runners on first and second with one out. After both runners moved up a base on a wild pitch, Nathan Meiners walked to load the bases for catcher Charlie Lyons. Sensing that Brandon didn't have his best stuff, Renfroe sent for ground ball specialist Lee Carter in the Auburn bullpen to see if he could work his magic.
It didn't happen as Lyons drilled a single to right field to score Welch and make it 4-2. Rice continued to haunt the Tigers when he doubled to left center field to score three runners and make the total 7-2 Alabama heading to the bottom of the fifth inning. Auburn would answer back with a run in the inning when a Bobby Huddleston single scored Moran from third base with two outs. Trailing 7-3, Auburn needed to keep it close, but it wasn't to be.
Javon Moran is congratulated by his teammates following his third inning home run. He finished the week 7-16 in four games.
The puzzling thing was the absence of Auburn ace Levale Speigner in the game. A perfect 9-0 on the season, Speigner was scheduled to come in as a reliever in Saturday's game, but Renfroe said the coaching staff decided it was a little too soon to bring him back after his outing against Alabama one night earlier.
"He threw 30 hard pitches last night and we really wanted to get a start tomorrow out of him," Renfroe said. "He'll be better served and have rest and throw his pens and stretch out to be ready to start next Friday rather than put him off pace. A start would have been good backing up two days of real hard pitching. That could change next weekend and we just weren't going to risk that."
With no Speigner available, that left things up to Carter, Josh Sullivan and Jim Miksis. Unfortunately for the Tigers, none of them had an answer for Alabama's offensive attack. Leading 7-3 going to the sixth, Alabama exploded for five more runs to leave the crowd in a lull watching the foregone conclusion.
Working on an outstanding offensive game, Pavkovich walked to get the leadoff runner aboard and get the Auburn bullpen busy again with Sullivan coming in to try to stop the Tide. He promptly walked Hearod to bring Welch to the plate. After getting Welch out on strikes, Sullivan struggled as Beagle singled up the middle to score Pavkovich from second. Meiners then came through with a single to score a run and Lyons did the same to bring Rice back to the plate hungry for more and he delivered, driving a pitch deep over the right field wall for a two-run home run. Leading 12-3, Alabama would tack on another run in the seventh inning and held the Tigers scoreless to end the game on the 10-run mercy rule.
"I just really should have stayed with Cory and E.B. Friday and would have been better off not throwing Steven (Steven Register) or Levale," Renfroe said. "That's where I hurt the guys. I hate that I put them in that position. Even if we had held on and won the game, I think it would have put us in the same situation. That was unwise on my part and hopefully next time around I'll be able to see ahead for that."
With a record of 40-19, Auburn has the best pre-NCAA mark since the 1999 team finished 43-16 on the way to a regional championship when it was an NCAA regional host at Plainsman Park. Despite falling twice to Alabama in the SEC Tournament, Dueitt said that it doesn't change the goals for this team or the feelings of the Tigers heading into next weekend's possible regional on the Plains.
"Anytime a game like that it's definitely not fun to watch it," Dueitt said. "Being Alabama definitely adds a little to it, but in games like that it doesn't matter who is on the other side.
"The guys are alright," he added. "We're going to get this past us. We've done what we wanted to do to this point. We hope to have a regional in our park next week and get our minds right with that. We'll just let this one get by us and do our job next weekend."
The Tigers now await Sunday's regional site selections announcement, which can be seen live on ESPN between 2:10 and 2:30 p.m. CDT. On Monday the bracket announcement can be seen on ESPN2 beginning at 11:30 a.m. We will have a full update and reactions following Sunday's announcement.