Despite outhitting Vanderbilt 11-8, the Tigers stranded 12 runners in the loss and missed multiple chances to put runs on the board. It's something that has plagued Auburn this season and Coach John Pawlowski. The lack of clutch hits and untimely walks on the mound led to another close loss for the Tigers, the eighth loss by two runs or less this season.
"It was one of those games where we had some opportunities to score and we've got to come up with some big hits," Pawlowski said. "We just haven't been able to do that. We had some opportunities early, but we weren't able to come up with the big hit early to open things up."
Auburn starter Derek Varnadore had a solid night as he pitched into the seventh inning before giving way to reliever Jay Wade. Throwing 94 pitches, the senior allowed five runs on seven hits, but walked three Commodore hitters in the process. Relievers Jay Wade, Cory Luckie and Slade Smith combined to allow one hit in two innings of work.
"They hit a couple of balls the other way and did a good job of manufacturing some runs," Pawlowski said. "They got some key base hits to score three runs in one inning. We kept the game close and gave ourselves a chance in the ninth inning. I know they are disappointed, as we all are. Sooner or later this team has to step up when we have opportunities, and when those opportunities come up we have to strike."
Already without Saturday starter Will Kendall because of an arm injury, the Tigers could be without first baseman Garrett Cooper as well. Injuring his ribs diving for a bunt on Friday night, Pawlowski said he's questionable for the weekend. If he's unable to go it puts Auburn in a bind and could force DH/closer Justin Bryant into the role.
"We're not sure," Pawlowski said. When he dove at first base he kind of jammed his rib. I'm not sure exactly how he is. We're going to evaluate him later on. Clearly he was unable to swing at that point. We'll make a move and see what happens." At the plate Dan Glevenyak, Ryan Tella, Cullen Wacker, and Jay Gonzalez all had two hits for the Tigers, but it wasn't enough on this night.
The first three innings saw Auburn leave a runner in scoring position each time as the Tigers couldn't get the clutch hit off T.J. Pecoraro. Vanderbilt had the same problems against Varnadore as the Commodores had two runners in scoring position the first three innings, but also failed to score.
In the fourth Wacker reached on a bunt single with one out, but that would be all for the Tigers. Varnadore cruised through the first two Vanderbilt hitters in the bottom of the fourth before Navin doubled to right-center, his second of the game. This time the Commodores came through as Lupo ripped the first pitch he saw into right field for a single. Navin scored easily ahead of the throw from Jay Gonzalez to make it 1-0 Vanderbilt.
Auburn once again had an opportunity to score in the fifth as Gonzalez walked and moved to second on a bunt by Blake Austin. Trying to bunt for a hit, Glevenyak popped up his attempt to Pecoraro on the mound for the second out. A wild pitch moved Gonzalez to third base and Ryan Tella delivered a single to center field to tie the game.
The Tigers weren't done though as Cooper followed with a single on a hit-and-run to put runners on the corners for Justin Bryant. Getting ahead in the count, Bryant pushed a single to right field to score Tella. With the ball hit very hard and playing shallow, right fielder Mike Yastrzemski tried to throw out the designated hitter at first base. The throw bounced away however to allow Cooper to move to third. A walk to Wacker loaded the bases for Creede Simpson, but the second baseman went down on strikes to leave three on.
In the sixth Auburn had yet another chance to put runs on the board as Gonzalez doubled to left field with one out to start the rally. Catcher Blake Austin followed by earning a walk from Clinard to put a pair on base for Glevenyak. His pop up for the second out brought Tella to the plate. The sophomore hit a liner, but right at the Vanderbilt shortstop. His throw to first brought the inning to a close. Through six Auburn led 2-1, but had left nine runners on base.
Vanderbilt made the Tigers pay for that in the bottom of the sixth as Anthony Gomez singled on the first pitch in the bottom of the sixth and a walk to Conrad Gregor put runners on first and second with nobody out. A sacrifice bunt moved the runners into scoring position for Navin and he continued his hot night with a single to right field. His third hit of the game scored both runners to make it 3-2 Vanderbilt. A wild pitch moved Navin to second and it proved to be huge as Lupo singled to right field to score the third run of the inning and give the Commodores a two-run cushion.
Auburn gave the Commodores plenty of help in the bottom of the seventh to extend the lead as Varnadore walked John Norwood to open the inning before Wade came in to retire the next two hitters. Coming on to face the left-hander Gregor, Cory Luckie walked him to bring Yazstrzemski to the plate. He came through with a single after getting ahead in the county to make it 5-2 Vanderbilt going to the eighth inning.
In the top of the eighth Auburn got a two-out single from Gonzalez and a walk to Austin to bring Glevenyak to the plate with a chance to get the Tigers back in the game. Getting a pitch to hit the sophomore drove it into the gap in left field for a double. The hit scored Gonzalez and pinch runner Mitchell Self to cut the lead down to one.
An intentional walk to Tella was scheduled to bring Cooper to the plate, but he was injured diving for a ball in the previous inning and was pinch hit for by Patrick Savage. Reliever Brian Miller came on to strike out Savage and leave two more on base for the Tigers. Auburn went down quietly in the ninth to end the night.
Auburn will try to even the series on Saturday at 2 p.m. as senior Jon Luke Jacobs (4-0, 2.53 ERA) takes the mound in his first SEC start of the year. He will face off against RHP Tyler Beede (1-3, 4.79) for the Commodores.