"It was a cold night and it's a different day, but it's the same thing," Auburn Coach Sunny Golloway said. "It's an error in the outfield that cost us dearly. It's like the eighth game where we made an error in the outfield that has cost us the game. I told them I was proud of the way they came back and fought. It's a frustrating day. It has been a frustrating year. It ain't always going to be this way."
With the loss Auburn falls to 21-16 overall while Samford improves to 21-15 with its second win of the season over the Tigers.
Playing without the services of seniors Dan Glevenyak, Blake Austin and Reid Carter and junior Daniel Koger because of a violation of team policy, the Tigers started seven freshmen for the second-straight game. Golloway said that's something that will continue even when the guys return this weekend.
"It's a violation of team policy," Golloway said. "They are student-athletes and student comes before athlete, but I don't think that made the difference. Our freshmen right now have won starting jobs."
At the plate senior Ryan Tella was the hitting star for the Tigers, going 4-5 to raise his average to .367 on the season. Even with his positives at the plate it was a Tella mistake in the field that cost his team and had the veteran center fielder steaming after the loss.
"It was a good fight, but I don't think we should have been in that hole," Tella said. "Especially after that pop-up I dropped put us in that hole. Besides that I think we did a good job coming back. The word the past couple of years is that we can't fight back, but tonight proved it. We had base runners almost every inning past that six-spot they put up on us . It just shows that we're still learning the system that Golloway is teaching us. We're not giving up. There's not give-up in us whatsoever."
Already leading 2-0, Samford struck for four runs in the third inning thanks to plenty of help from Auburn. With two outs and nobody on, starter Justin Camp hit Filliben with a pitch to give the Bulldogs some life. Following a balk to move the runner to second, Auburn got a fly ball to center field that would have ended the inning, but Ryan Tella misplayed the routine out for an error. That allowed the run to score and push the Samford lead to three, but they were just getting started.
With the momentum firmly on their side, the Bulldogs got a single from right fielder Heath Quinn to bring first baseman Caleb Bryson to the plate. Getting a pitch to drive, Bryson deposited it over the left field wall for his seventh home run of the season. That gave Samford a commanding 6-0 lead, but the Tigers didn't roll over.
Auburn finally got its offense going in the top of the fifth inning as freshman second baseman Brett Binning continued his strong play with a leadoff single. With one out and Damon Haecker at the plate, the Tigers put Binning in motion and Haecker delivered a perfect hit and run single through the left side to put runners on the corners for the heart of the order.
Facing lefty reliever Patrick McGavin, Tella put down a perfect bunt up the first-base line for a single. Binning scored easily on the play to put the Tigers on the board and put runners on first and second. Following a wild pitch, Jordan Ebert lifted a fly ball to right field to score Haecker from third and move Tella within 90 feet of home. That proved to be big as Damek Tomscha's ground ball to third was booted by Tripp Martin to allow Tella to score. Another error by Martin on a Blake Logan ground ball then loaded the bases for Connor Short. Facing sidearm reliever Mark Donham, Short was hit by a pitch to force home Daniel Robert and cut the lead down to 6-4. Batting around, Binning had the opportunity to tie the game or put the Tigers in the lead with two outs, but took strike three on the outside corner to end the inning.
One inning later Auburn looked to take the lead as Anfernee Grier walked to start things off and moved to second on a Tella single. Taking a pitch back up the middle for a single, Ebert pushed across Grier to cut the Samford lead down to just one. With Robert at the plate Samford uncorked a wild pitch to move both runners into scoring position. Needing to just put the ball in play, Auburn instead got a strikeout from Robert and a fly ball out from Tomscha to end the threat and keep the score 6-5.
It didn't take long for Samford to get the run back in the bottom of the sixth as Martin doubled to start the inning and put the pressure on pitcher Robby Clements. A sacrifice bunt moved the runner to third with leadoff man T.J. Dixon at the plate, but he never had to swing the bat to get the runner home as a wild pitch made it 7-5 Bulldogs.
Auburn kept the pressure on in the eighth inning as Haecker walked and Tella singled to put the Tigers in business. Facing Samford'S Friday night starter Alex Ledford, Ebert hit a ground ball to short. Instead of a double play however, Ebert beat the throw to first to avoid the second out. Trying to drive the ball, Robert hit a high-chopper that should have scored Haecker from third, but he was gunned down at the plate. Now with two outs Tomscha delivered his second hit of the game, scoring Ebert to make it a one-run game once again. Closer Andres Gracia struck out Blake Logan to end the inning and keep Auburn down one.
That's how things would finish as Gracia shut down the Tigers in the ninth to earn his 11th save of the season.
On the mound the Tigers used five different pitchers with Camp allowing two earned runs on four hits in two and two/thirds innings. Jacob Milliman, Clements, Jay Wade and Trey Cochran-Gill combined to finish off the game for the Tigers.
Auburn returns to action this weekend when the Tigers take on South Carolina in a three-game series at Plainsman Park. Game times are 6 p.m. on Friday, 4 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday.
Tiger Ticket Extra: Golloway confirmed on Tuesday night that freshman pitcher Keegan Thompson will be Auburn's closer moving forward this season. With that in mind the Tigers' rotation is up in the air for this weekend with Dillon Ortman on Friday night and likely Michael O'Neal on Saturday with Sunday TBA. A possibility is sophomore Trey Wingenter in that role.