Errors Doom Tigers In 5-3 Loss To Bulldogs

Auburn's three errors led to a pair of Mississippi State runs in a 5-3 loss.

Auburn, Ala.—Three Auburn errors led directly to a pair of Mississippi State runs and that proved to be the difference Friday night as the Bulldogs defeated the Tigers 5-3 to take the opening game of the series at Plainsman Park. With the game delayed an hour with one delay after five innings, MSU starting pitcher Chris Stratton showed why he's one of the best in the league as he allowed just two earned runs in seven innings to get the win and improve to 6-0 on the year.

With the loss Auburn falls to 15-11 overall and 4-3 in SEC play. It is the third consecutive loss for the Tigers and one that Coach John Pawlowski said should have been different.

"You expect games to be close and our team knows, in those close games, the magnitude of each play and each pitch," Pawlowski said. "Defensively we had three big miscues that really hurt us tonight.

"Our team has been in a lot of close games," he added. "Probably 50 percent of our games have been decided by two runs or less and this was another one. We know it's going to be close and we have to find a way to come up with a big pitch or a big play or a big swing. Hopefully we'll find a way to get that done."

At the plate Jay Gonzalez and Cullen Wacker each had two hits on a night when Auburn managed just eight hits as a team. For Mississippi State (18-9, 3-4) Trey Porter had three hits to lead a 10-hit attack for the Bulldogs.

Auburn starter Derek Varnadore did another solid job on the mound, allowing two earned runs on six hits in six innings. Reliever Slade Smith allowed one earned run on four hits in three innings for the Tigers.

Things didn't start out well for Varnadore and the Tigers in the first inning as he walked leadoff man Adam Frazier to get off on a sour note. Catcher Mitch Slauter followed with a ground ball that Zach Alvord misplayed at third base for an error. That put runners on first and third with nobody out for the Bulldogs to bring Porter to the plate.

The left-hander delivered for MSU with a single to center field to score Frazier and put Varnadore in even bigger trouble. So far this SEC season the Tigers have been fortunate to get some double plays to get out of jams and that's what Varnadore got when Hunter Renfroe's ground ball started a 6-4-3 double play. Even though the run scored it allowed Auburn to get out of the inning trailing by just two runs.

Facing Stratton, Auburn couldn't ask for a better start themselves as Gonzalez doubled to left field. It looked like that's all the Tigers would get however as Creede Simpson and Ryan Tella both struck out to bring Wacker to the plate.

Getting a pitch to handle, the senior hit a liner back up the middle that Frazier got to from short however his throw was wild at first. The error allowed Gonzalez to score from second and put Auburn on the board. The trouble continued for the Bulldogs on defense as Garrett Cooper's fly ball to right field was misplayed by Brent Brownlee. Struggling on the wet ground he couldn't get to the ball, allowing Wacker to score from second to tie the game.

Mississippi State looked poised to break the game open in the fourth inning when Porter and Renfroe singled to open the frame. A sacrifice bunt moved both runners into scoring position, but Varnadore recovered to strike out Wes Rea and Matthew Britton to end the inning.

That's how things would stay until the top of the sixth. Following a 23-minute rain delay and having already thrown 86 pitches, Varnadore went back out in the sixth and immediately ran into trouble. With one out Renfroe doubled down the left field line and moved to third on a single by C.T. Bradford.

A passed ball moved both runners into scoring position for big Wes Rea, but a walk loaded the bases for Matthew Britton. With just one RBI this season, coming on opening day, Britton lifted a fly ball to left field that easily scored Renfroe to put the Bulldogs in front 3-2.

With Stratton in control on the mound Auburn was looking to stay in the game in the eighth inning. After getting the first two hitters, Smith got a fly ball to right field that pushed Gonzalez back towards the warning track. Settling under the ball the sophomore dropped it to allow Bradford to cruise into second. Facing Rea, Smith uncorked a wild pitch that bounced away from Bowen at the plate. Grabbing the ball and throwing towards third base Bowen's throw bounced into left field. The second error of the inning allowed the run to score and give Mississippi State a 4-2 advantage.

Auburn made a run at the Bulldogs in the eighth as Gonzalez picked himself up with his second double of the game to lead off the inning. With Simpson at the plate a wild pitch moved Gonzalez to third with Tella at the plate. The leading hitter for the Tigers and 0-3 on the night, Tella singled to right field to score Gonzalez and put runners on first and second for the heart of the order.

Doing his job, Wacker bunted the runners into scoring position for Cooper. Getting down in the count, Cooper hit a shallow fly ball to right field that Brownlee caught moving towards the plate. His throw was easily in time to cut down Simpson trying to score and end the inning with Auburn down one.

For the second consecutive inning Auburn easily retired the first two hitters before Smith ran into trouble. This time it was of his own doing as Frazier's single was the first of three straight hits for the Bulldogs. The third was a single by Porter to score the speedy shortstop for a 5-3 Mississippi State advantage.

That's all the Bulldogs' closer Caleb Reed would need. Coming on to snuff out the Auburn rally in the eighth, he finished off the Tigers in the ninth inning to secure the win for Mississippi State.

Auburn will send sophomore Will Kendall (3-0, 1.98 ERA) to the mound on Saturday trying to even up the series against Mississippi State lefty Nick Routt 1-3, 4.01). The first pitch is scheduled for 3 p.m. at Plainsman Park.

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