The strength of the team all season long, Auburn's bullpen was the culprit on Friday night as closer Terrance Dedrick allowed five runs on just two hits and walked three to take the loss. Jay Wade came on and allowed what proved to be the eventual game winning run in a brutal finish to the game for the Tigers.
Auburn didn't quit however as the Tigers scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth to cut the lead to just one, but Dan Glevenyak's fly ball to left field was caught to end the rally and hand Auburn it's third loss of the season. With the win Eastern Illinois improves to 3-6 on the season.
"I thought we had the guys in that we wanted in that situation, but it certainly didn't work out," Auburn Coach John Pawlowski said. "Way too many free passes and we gave them many opportunities and they took advantage of it. They did a good job and certainly they deserved to win today."
Leading 7-1 heading into the sixth inning, Auburn starter Daniel Koger was on cruise control early, but a four-run inning for Eastern Illinois put them back in business heading into the late innings at Plainsman Park.
Following a 10-pitch inning by reliever Conner Kendrick in the eighth, Pawlowski turned things over to Dedrick in the ninth to secure the win, but it wouldn't turn out that way. Struggling to find his rhythm, Dedrick walked the first batter he faced before recovering to strike out the next two hitters. A walk to Caleb Howell put runners on first and second for Nick Priessman. Getting ahead 0-2, Dedrick appeared to strike out the center fielder looking, but home play umpire Mike Cheek froze up and called it a ball instead. Dedrick wound up walking him to load the bases for first baseman Treyson Vavra.
On a 2-1 pitch Vavra lifted a lazy fly ball into shallow right field that second baseman Jordan Ebert couldn't find. The same was true of right fielder Jackson Burgreen and center fielder Ryan Tella as well. With nobody able to see the ball it fell for a double to clear the bases and put Eastern Illinois up 8-7. Before they were done the Panthers would tack on two more runs for an 11-7 lead.
"I trust my infielders and outfielders all the way," Dedrick says. "Usually when there is a pop up a lot of times I don't even look at it because I know it's an automatic out. The sky was tough and they lost it and couldn't see it. It was just one of those things.
"When you're struggling a little bit on the mound and trying to find your release point, all your strikes are pretty exciting. That's one of those times where I threw a good pitch. I kind of had a deep breath and relaxed a little bit because I threw a good pitch and was finally out of the inning, but it was just one of those things. The ball dropped and I had to reset my mind."
Auburn tried to rally in the bottom of the ninth as Cullen Wacker singled to open the frame and Garrett Cooper followed with a triple to put the Tigers in business. A Patrick Savage walk and a Blake Austin single put the pressure on the Panthers, but an Ebert bunt was fielded by the pitcher and cut down Savage trying to advance to second base with the tying run.
Burgreen then lined one down the third base line, but Brant Valach made a diving grab and threw out the speedy runner at first base for the second out of the inning. While a run scored on the play, he kept the game from likely being tied because of his defensive play. With the final shot at the plate Dan Glevenyak hit a long fly ball to left that just missed being foul before his liner down the left field line was snared by Trent Whitcomb to end the game.
Eastern Illinois got on the board first with a single run in the top of the third as Howell drove home Tyler Schweigert with a two-out single, but the Tigers would answer back in the fourth inning. With one out Glevenyak singled and Ryan Tella followed with a single as well. Following a Damek Tomscha fly ball, Wacker lined a double to left field to score both runners and put Auburn in front.
In the fifth Auburn broke things open offensively. With one out and Austin on second, Ebert singled to right field to make it a 3-1 lead for the Tigers, but they were just getting started. A Burgreen fly ball to center field was dropped by Priessman to keep the momentum on Auburn's side.
Following a Glevenyak pop up for out number two, Tella added his second hit of the game to score Ebert. Getting a pitch to drive, the third baseman Tomscha lined a single that easily scored Burgreen and Tella from second following a stolen base. Cooper closed out the scoring in the inning for the Tigers as his RBI single pushed across Tomscha for a commanding 7-1 lead.
After cruising through the first five innings Koger ran into some trouble in the sixth as his leadoff walk to Nathan Sopena opened up the floodgates for Eastern Illinois. Following a fielder's choice, Howell singled before Priessman doubled home a run. That was the end of the line for Koger as Reid Carter came on in relief for the Tigers, but things only got worse.
After walking the first batter he faced, Carter got a strikeout with the bases loaded to bring Valach to the plate. Grooving the first pitch, the Auburn High product gave up a bases clearing double to make it four runs for the inning and cut the Tigers' lead to 7-5.
That's how things would stand until the meltdown in the ninth inning that gave Eastern Illinois the victory.
Tella, Tomscha, Wacker, Cooper, Savage and Ebert all had two hits for the Tigers while Koger allowed four earned runs on five hits in five and one/third innings on the mound.
Auburn will return to action Saturday at 3 p.m. as Michael O'Neal gets the call for the Tigers looking for his third win of the season.