Tigers Fall 5-2 To Vandy In SEC Opener

Auburn fell 5-2 to Vanderbilt in the SEC opener Friday night at Plainsman Park.

Auburn, Ala.—Two early home runs and the pitching of Kevin Ziomek proved to be too much for the Auburn Tigers to overcome in the SEC opener Friday night as the Vanderbilt Commodores took a 5-2 win at Plainsman Park. The loss drops Auburn to 13-4 overall while the #2 Commodores improve to 17-2 on the season with the win.

Not allowing his first hit until the sixth inning on the way to his fifth win of the season, Ziomek was the difference in Friday's game as he allowed just five hits and two earned runs in eight and one/third innings. Just missing his third consecutive complete game, the junior shut down Auburn's offense until late in the game and Coach John Pawlowski says he was just better on this night.

"I thought he executed and used his change-up a little bit more today," Pawlowski says. "I thought he did a good job of complementing that breaking ball. When you have those two pitches going for you it's tough. He did a very good job with a three-pitch mix tonight.

"He just made some quality pitches," he adds. "Give him credit. He located his fastball and made some good pitches. It took us a while to get something going. He did a very good job for them."

If there is one positive to take from the loss it came on the mound for the Tigers. Allowing a solo homer and an RBI double in the first, starter Daniel Koger allowed a three-run homer in the third for five early runs. After that he settled down to retire 11-straight batters before giving way to reliever Jay Wade. He pitched two perfect innings himself before a one-two-three inning by Will Kendall in the ninth.

That was 20 consecutive Vanderbilt hitters that Auburn retired to end the game. While it didn't mean a win for his team, Pawlowski said that and the fight his team showed at the plate late in the game was a good sign heading into the rest of the weekend.

"I'm encouraged by our team," Pawlowski says. "I know they are very encouraged by the loss as we all are, but our guys wouldn't go away. We made it a game there late. I thought our relievers came in and did exactly what we asked them to do, give us a chance to win. Unfortunately we didn't do it. Vanderbilt was a couple of swings better than us tonight."

Jordan Ebert had one of Auburn's five hits on the night against Vanderbilt.

Getting the first two batters of the game, Koger made an early mistake on a 1-2 pitch and Conrad Gregor made the sophomore pay with a solo homer to right field for the early 1-0 lead. That gave Vanderbilt some energy as Connor Harrell walked to bring Mike Yastrzemski to the plate. Getting a pitch to drive the other way, the young Yaz doubled home Harrell to give Ziomek a two-run lead to work with.

Following a scoreless second the Commodores went back to work in the third inning off Koger as Jack Lupo's one-out single was followed by a Gregor single to bring the powerful Harrell to the plate. Getting behind in the count 3-1, Koger was forced to groove a pitch to the center fielder and he didn't miss as he drove it out of the park for his fifth homer of the season.

"The difference was they had a couple of big swings," Pawlowski says. "The second home run was obviously the determining factor in the game. Good teams are going to take advantage of mistakes and we made some mistakes. That was the difference in the ballgame."

Now trailing 5-0, Auburn couldn't get anything going against Ziomek as the left-hander had a perfect game going until issuing a walk to Blake Austin in the sixth inning. The Tigers didn't get a hit until one inning later when Ryan Tella singled to center field with one out in the seventh.

The good news for Auburn is that Koger settled down to retire the 11 batters he faced before giving way to Wade in the seventh inning. He kept the Commodores quiet for two innings and allowed the Tigers to finally get something going offensively in the bottom of the eighth.

Walking to start the inning, Cooper was on first with Austin at the plate before being retired on a ground ball to second base. Now with two outs and the catcher on first, Auburn got its first break as Ziomek balked Austin to second base with Jordan Ebert at the plate. The freshman second baseman continued to come up clutch for the Tigers with a single to center field to put Auburn on the scoreboard.

In the ninth Patrick Savage singled up the middle with one out and Cullen Wacker's single to right field and an ensuing error on Yastrzemski's error sent pinch-runner Hunter Kelley around to third. With one out and Cooper coming to the plate, Vanderbilt went to the bullpen for closer Brian Miller. Just missing his pitch, Auburn's first baseman hit a long fly ball to center field to score Kelley and make it 5-2. Miller recovered to strike out Damek Tomscha to end the game and secure the win for Vanderbilt.

Auburn will send junior college transfer Michael O'Neal to the mound on Saturday looking for his fifth win of the year. The first pitch is scheduled for 2:22 and the game can be seen on SportSouth.

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