Despite pounding out 14 hits and scoring seven runs, the Tigers couldn't overcome four errors and countless other mental errors in a 9-7 loss to the Buckeyes.
The victory sends Ohio State (44-19) to the Super Regional round of the NCAA Baseball Tournament where the Buckeyes will face the winner of the Nebraska-Southwest Missouri State contest being played Sunday. The loss ends Auburn's season with a record of 42-21, a disappointing end to a very good season that began with so much promise.
"There's no excuses," Auburn Coach Steve Renfroe said. "They are as tough of a bunch as I've ever seen. Chuck is on one leg and they are battling. Bobby is on one leg and Amonite, and yet they continue to fight hard. There were some strange plays out there, but that's baseball. We didn't play great defense, that's obvious by the errors. They capitalized and we had our chances. It was just a tough day.
"The best team won and they proved that," Renfroe added. "We had two cracks at them and they won. You've just got to tip your hat. I thought they played awfully hard. We had an inning where Javon stole and couldn't hang the bag and then just missed the home run, and it looked like we had a chance right there to do something special. To their credit, they stopped it, came back and put runs up."
Bobby Huddleston hits a fly ball to the wall in center field. He finished the game 2-3 with two runs batted in.
After losing Saturday's winner's bracket game to Ohio State, Auburn came back on Sunday having to beat the Buckeyes twice. For a while that looked like it would happen, but Ohio State played steady baseball that carried it into the next round.
Auburn got on the board first in the second inning. The visitors after losing on Saturday, the Tigers batted in the top of the inning and senior catcher Bobby Huddleston singled through the left side to put the leadoff hitter aboard. Waiting on a pitch from Ohio State starter Chris Hanners, Karl Amonite doubled to the right—center field gap to send Huddleston to third with nobody out.
Continuing to swing the bat well, freshman Clete Thomas singled through the right side to score Huddleston and give Auburn the early lead. Following a Scott Schade strikeout, freshman designated hitter Derek Sain lifted a single into left field to score Amonite from third base. Ahead 2-0, Auburn sent true freshman Chris Dennis to the mound hoping to lead the Tigers to victory.
Junior center fielder Javon Moran steals second but his slide carried him past the bag and he was tagged out. Moran hit .471 for the weekend and made the all-tournament team along with first baseman Karl Amonite, third baseman Scott Schade and pitcher Colby Paxton.
Leading off the second, Paul Farinacci reached on a tough error by Auburn shortstop Chuck Jeroloman, who threw low on a running attempt across the infield. Hitless in the tournament to this point, left fielder Cody Caughenbaugh earned a walk to bring catcher Derek Kinnear to the plate. Playing fundamental baseball, Kinnear bunted the runners over and shortstop Brett Garrard drove a run across with a sacrifice fly to left field. Leading 2-1, Auburn came to bat in the third looking for more.
With one out in the inning, Tug Hulett singled to right field to bring Huddleston to the plate. Sitting on an inside fastball, Huddleston drove it deep over the left field wall for a two-run home run to give the Tigers a 4-1 lead. The margin increased to four just moments later when Amonite drove a pitch over the K Korner in right field for his 12th home run of the season.
Holding a four-run lead, the Tigers appeared to be in good shape, but Ohio State would begin to chip away at the lead in the third. Leadoff hitter Drew Anderson, the MVP of the Regional, doubled off the Green Monster in left field to open the inning. After moving to third on a sacrifice bunt, Anderson scored on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Christian Snavely. Although it was just one run, it was the kind of baseball that would eventually be the difference between winning and losing on Sunday.
Holding Auburn scoreless in the fourth, Ohio State had the momentum going to the bottom of the inning and made it pay. Once again it was Farinacci getting things going with a single through the right side. One out later it was Kinnear's turn, as he singled to left to put runners on first and second with just one out. Blistering hot on the weekend, Garrard drilled a long double to left-center that scored both runners. The second crossed the plate just as a Jeroloman relay throw came to Huddleston at the plate. Unable to hold on to the throw, Huddleston's bobble on a tough play allowed Garrard to move to third with still just one out.
That would signal the end of Dennis' day and bring Cory Dueitt in. His entrance didn't work out well as a wild pitch allowed Garrard to score from third with the tying run. Getting Anderson looking for the final out of the inning, Dueitt's emergence into the game seemed to spur the Tigers on in the fifth inning.
Leading off the fifth, Huddleston walked to put an end to Hanners' outing. With Amonite at the plate, reliever Kyle Brown came in and got him to ground out to second base. Huddleston was able to advance to second on the plate and that became big as Thomas singled up the middle to score him from third. Schade then plated Thomas from second when he singled sharply to right field. Ahead by two runs once again, the Tigers had a chance to put the game away, but costly errors would doom them down the stretch.
For the third time in the game, Farinacci led off an inning with a base hit, this time in the sixth. Two outs later, after advancing to second on a ground ball, he would score on a single by Garrard to left field. Not hustling to get in front of the ball, Gamble allowed it to get under his glove and go to the wall and move Garrard to second base with two outs.
Not taking any chances, Renfroe went to the bullpen and brought in closer Steven Register. Saying after the game that Register told him he was good for three or four innings, Renfroe was hoping to keep the lead and make it to the final game. It wouldn't happen that way.
Facing number nine hitter Jedidiah Stephen, Register got him to hit a long fly ball into left center field. Playing him to hit to the opposite field, Moran had a long way to run to the gap in left and couldn't come up with the grab. Hitting him on the heel of the glove, the ball rolled away allowing Garrard to score the tying run. Things would only get worse after a walk to Anderson when a Mike Rabin ground ball got by Hulett to allow the go-ahead run to score. The inning took the wind out of the Auburn sails and left the Tigers with not much juice for the final few innings.
"It was right in the middle of the sun," Moran said of the fly ball. It looked like a little small black dot when I was going after it. I just tried to get a glove on it and it hit the heel of my glove and bounced off."
The Buckeyes would extend their lead in the seventh inning when Caughenbaugh came through with the biggest hit of his career. Working against Register, he drilled a pitch deep over the right field wall just out of the reach of Thomas. It climbed over the wall for a home run to give Ohio State a 9-7 lead going to the eighth. That's when Auburn would make one last run.
With two outs and nobody on in the eighth, Moran drilled a triple into right-center that brought Hulett to the plate with the tying run. Facing closer Matt Davis, Hulett earned a walk to bring Huddleston to the plate with a chance to tie the game or give the Tigers the lead. Working the count to full at 3-2, he was hit on the shoulder by a change-up. That meant Amonite would have a chance. Getting the count in his favor, he drilled a 2-1 fastball into left-center, but Rabin easily tracked it down for the final out of the inning. Auburn didn't threaten in the ninth, setting off a celebration for the Buckeyes.
"They just whipped us," Renfroe said following the game. "I'm very proud of our guys. They put a heck of a year together and I think they took us to another level. They brought an atmosphere in here today that was probably the best atmosphere I've ever seen at Auburn University for baseball. That's exciting. That's exciting to me for who's coming back and we look forward to that."