"We talked about the importance of getting out of the gates," Pawlowski says. "We've done a very good job of that so far this year, unfortunately today that kind of set the table. We got behind 7-1, but I was very encouraged by the way we settled in and gave ourselves a chance to come back. I thought the pitchers came in and settled it down. Importantly our offense got some offense going and knew we could score some runs. I thought we did a good job of that."
The story of the game for Auburn came on the mound as starter Rocky McCord lasted just one and two/thirds innings and allowed four runs on four hits. Reliever Justin Camp didn't fare much better, giving up three runs on four hits in two innings before Terrance Dedrick and Conner Kendrick finished off the game solidly for the Tigers. Allowing just one run on four hits in three and two/thirds innings, Dedrick gave Auburn a chance to win the game along with Kendrick's one and two/thirds innings of scoreless relief.
"He (Dedrick) is a big part of what we're doing," Pawlowski says. "Both he and Conner Kendrick. It's always tough when you're down. The mentality is that you just have to go out and put some zeros on the board. They both did a good job."
While the pitching staff recovered to give the Tigers a chance it was once again too big of a hill to climb for an offense struggling to finish off innings. Leaving nine men on base, including a key bases loaded situation in the fifth, Auburn finished with 11 hits on the day as Patrick Savage and Blake Austin both had two hits each.
With the loss Auburn falls to 13-6 overall and 0-3 in SEC play while Vanderbilt improves to 19-2 overall. It's the sixth time the Tigers have been swept in conference play in the last 21 series dating back to the 2011 season and puts them in a serious hole with a trip to LSU coming up next weekend. Pawlowski says right now they just have to keep working.
"We made it a ballgame after early when it didn't look like one," Pawlowski says. "That's the encouraging thing we can take from it. The discouraging thing is that it was a tough weekend. It was a tough way to open up SEC play. There is lots of baseball left to go, but lots of work left for us too."
Blake Austin had two hits for the Tigers on Sunday and threw out two Vandy stolen base attempts. He's now thrown out seven of 10 attempts this season.
Vanderbilt once again jumped out to the early lead in the series with a single run in the first inning before breaking out for three runs in the third against McCord. Designated hitter Rhett Wiseman got things started with a walk and moved to second on a bunt by Joel McKeithan to bring catcher Chris Harvey to the plate. Delivering a single to score a run, the number nine hitter turned things over to the top of the order to keep the Vanderbilt inning going.
A single from leadoff man Tony Kemp put a pair of speedy runners on for Conrad Gregor with two outs later in the inning and the first baseman came through with a double. That easily scored both runners to put Auburn in an early 4-0 hole.
Mired in the midst of a slumping weekend, Ryan Tella was hit by a pitch to lead off the bottom of the second and stole second base to move into scoring position. Moving to third on a Savage single, the speedy Tella scored on an Austin sacrifice fly to put the Tigers on the board.
After coming on to get Auburn out of the second inning, Camp ran into trouble in the third as the Commodores continued to put the pressure on the Tigers, this time thanks to some shaky Auburn defense. Leading off, Mike Yastrzemski reached when Camp bobbled an easy play for an error. He was caught stealing, but Vince Conde walked to put a runner back on first for the Commodores and Wiseman at the plate.
Hitting a slow ground ball to second baseman Jordan Ebert, Wiseman looked like he would end the inning. Instead Ebert's throw sailed into left field for an error that allowed Yastrzemski to score all the way from first. Wiseman cruised into second base and later scored on a Harvey single to make it 6-1. His double in the fourth gave Vanderbilt a big six-run cushion, but the Tigers wouldn't give up that easily.
Leading off the bottom of the fourth with a single, Garrett Cooper scored on a one-out double by Damek Tomscha to give the Auburn offense some life. Moving to third on a ground ball, Tomscha scored on a wild pitch and just like that Auburn was back in the game only down 7-3.
The Tigers missed a golden opportunity to get even closer in the fifth inning as walks to Jackson Burgreen and Ebert put Auburn in business. A sacrifice bunt by Cullen Wacker moved both into scoring position before Cooper was hit by a pitch to load the bases for Tella. With just one hit the first two days Tella's problems continued as he struck out before a Tomscha fly ball brought the inning to a close.
It proved to be a huge part of the game as Auburn scored twice in the sixth inning as Savage and Austin both singled and later scored on a Burgreen single. Now down just 7-5 the Tigers had the momentum, but quickly gave it right back with a Dedrick walk to the speedy Kemp with one out in the seventh. One out later with Gregor at the plate, the junior college transfer uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Kemp to move all the way to third. He then scored on a sacrifice fly to push the lead back to three.
In the bottom of the eighth Auburn cut into the lead as Dan Glevenyak doubled with two outs to bring pinch hitter Hunter Kelley to the plate. The junior college transfer had just two at-bats this season, but didn't let that stop him from getting his first career hit and RBI when he laced a double to left field.
Now trailing just 8-6 Auburn needed something big in the ninth, but a two-out double by Tella wasn't enough to do it as a Tomscha fly ball brought the game to a close as Vanderbilt's Brian Miller earned his seventh save of the season.
Auburn returns home Tuesday night to face Alabama State at 6 p.m. before traveling to Mobile on Wednesday to face Southern Miss in a 7 p.m. start at Hank Aaron Stadium.