With the loss Auburn falls to 25-21 overall and 9-13 in SEC play while Mississippi State improves to 29-18, 12-10 in league action.
The story of the night was the pitching performance of Mississippi State starter Trevor Fitts as well as relievers Jacob Lindgren and Jonathan Holder. Allowing five hits in five and one/third innings, Fitts picked up his fourth win of the season. Dominant in two and two/thirds innings of relief, Lindgren didn't allow a hit and struck out six to lower his ERA to just 1.22 this season. Holder finished it out to earn his sixth save of the season and 36th of his career. That is the most in the nation among active players.
"You've got to tip your cap to them," Auburn Coach Sunny Golloway said. "Lindgren really pitched well. That may be one of the best arms I have seen in our league so far. He was just wild enough to be effective and then he would bring that slider in there.
"I thought he pitched it really well to stabilize it for them when they got the lead," he added. "They hit some balls hard. Again, I thought we pitched well on the front end. We got a couple of off-speed pitches up that they hit out of the ballpark."
Both home runs came off Auburn starter Dillon Ortman. Entering the game he had not allowed a home run in SEC play this season, but on Friday night he allowed a pair to a Mississippi State team that had hit just nine balls out of the park this season entering the contest. Those two mistakes spoiled another quality outing for the senior as he allowed just three runs on six hits in seven and one/third innings on just 89 pitches.
Scoreless through two and a half innings, Auburn was looking to get something going in the third. Batting eighth in the Auburn lineup, leading hitter Jordan Ebert singled to open the bottom of the inning to put the Tigers in business. Doing his job, freshman Brett Binning put down a perfect sacrifice bunt to move Ebert into scoring position for the top of the order. Batting in the leadoff spot, freshman Daniel Robert struck out before Damon Haecker ripped a ball to the right side. Instead of a run-scoring single however it was out three as Blake Detz' leaping grab brought the Auburn threat to an end.
After almost giving up a home run in the first inning to Detz, Ortman wasn't as fortunate in the fourth as Bradford pulled a pitch over the right field wall to open the inning for his first home run of the year. It was the first allowed by Ortman in SEC play this season and the first allowed by Auburn at home in league play.
The Tigers had another chance to get on the board in the fourth inning as Blake Austin doubled off the wall in left field with one out and moved to third on a sac fly from Keegan Thompson. Following a walk to Anfernee Grier Auburn needed a two-out hit from senior Ryan Tella, but instead an attempted double steal failed when Austin was thrown out at the plate to end the inning. That was the 14th time this season that Auburn had a runner thrown out trying to score.
"We were just trying to get second base," Golloway said. "They had two strikes and as soon as the second strike was recorded I told Blake ‘I don't think they're going to throw through, I think they're going to fake-pump'. After he got caught he said he just extended too far. It was just a base-running mistake. We didn't think they were going to throw through and they didn't.
"We gave up another out on the base, but that has kind of been our M.O. this year," he added. "We've had some costly base-running mistakes and been thrown out in some key moments. In a game like this you can't give up an out like that and it not hurt you. That falls back on us. I've got to make sure he stays there as the third base coach and give us a little bit better chance right there."
Austin thrown out at the plate
Going his first seven league starts without allowing a home run, Ortman allowed his second of the night with one out in the fifth as right fielder Cody Brown hit a blast over the right field wall to make it 2-0 Bulldogs. It was his second of the season and the 11th on the year for Mississippi State, but with only three hits in five innings the Bulldogs held a two-run advantage.
Still trailing by two in the bottom of the sixth Auburn got something going as Austin walked and Thompson was hit by a pitch to bring Grier to the plate. Getting two strikes on the batter, Fitts was pulled in favor of stellar reliever Jacob Lindgren. He quickly struck out Grier to bring pinch hitter Blake Logan to the plate. Getting ahead of him as well, the powerful lefty struck out the overmatched freshman to end the inning and keep Auburn scoreless. It was the fifth time in six innings that the Tigers failed to score after getting a runner to second with one outs.
That proved to be the beginning of the end for Auburn on this night as Bradford doubled home Matthew Britton in the top of the eighth inning to make it a 3-0 lead for the visiting Bulldogs. They loaded the bases with nobody out in the ninth, but Reid Carter came on to shut the door and keep the Tigers in the game.
"He did a really good job," Golloway said. "He gave us a chance is what he did. They get the bases loaded and it looks like they are going to try to run away and we got a little momentum because of getting out of that jam. We had some momentum in our dugout."
That happened in the ninth when Thompson struck out to open the inning, but reached on a wild pitch. Up next, Grier walked to bring the tying run to the plate for the Tigers. Facing the right-handed closer, Golloway went with pinch hitter Sam Gillikin. Lifting a soft liner towards second base, Gillikin looked like he had done his job but a leaping Brett Pirtle robbed Auburn of a hit for the second time on the night. Ebert hit into a double play to end the threat and the game for the Tigers.
Auburn will face Mississippi State in game two of the series at 6 p.m. on Saturday night. The game can be seen on CSS.