Auburn, Ala.--On Friday night it was No. 4 Vanderbilt that made the mistakes, but Saturday it was a different story as the Auburn Tigers committed five errors and walked 14 batters as the Commodores won 10-5 in the first game of the doubleheader before holding off a furious Auburn rally in the nightcap for a 7-6 win in 10 innings.
With the losses Auburn falls to 15-9 overall and 1-5 in SEC play while Vanderbilt improves to 19-5 overall and 5-1 in league action. While Saturday will go down as a lost day for the Tigers with a pair of defeats, Coach Sunny Golloway said he saw it as another step forward for his program because of they way the Tigers fought back and never quit.
“My heart really hurts for our guys, it really does,” Golloway said. “I told them down the line that my heart hurts for them, but please don’t hang their heads. We’ve got a lot of games left to play. We’ve got 24 SEC games left. We’ve played six and we’re not in a good position at 1-5 and we recognize that, but we’ve played two teams that honestly are going to be competing for national seeds.
“They are fighting to be able to host not only regionals, but super regionals,” he added. “They’re that good. Our program is not there yet and we recognize that, I recognize that. The things we’re asking these guys to do, be mentally and physically tough, they’re doing it. When they show it and it has been a long day and they fight that hard, we kind of let game two get out of hand right there, I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
For much of the second game on Saturday the Tigers were fighting an uphill battle against the Commodores and that was especially the case in the ninth inning. Trailing 6-3 after being dominated by Buckhorn (Ala.) native Kyle Wright for two innings of relief, Auburn got a break when Vanderbilt went to the bullpen to start the inning with left-hander Ben Bowden.
That proved to be the wrong move as pinch hitter Blake Logan led things off with a triple to put the Tigers in business. Following pinch hitter J.J. Shaffer getting hit by a pitch, Anfernee Grier put down a bunt that Vanderbilt catcher Karl Ellison fell down trying to field. That loaded the bases with nobody out for the top of the Auburn order.
Getting a pitch he could handle, Damon Haecker singled to cut the lead to just two and bring Jordan Ebert to the plate. With one hit on the game and four for the day, Ebert walked to force home a second run and put Grier on third with the tying run and no outs. Already with three hits, Robert’s seeing-eye single to left pushed across the tying run to give Auburn three shots with the bases loaded and nobody out.
Unfortunately for Auburn it wasn’t to be as Cody Nulph was retired on a flare to the pitcher before Sam Gillikin struck out for the second out of the inning. That brought junior college transfer second baseman Melvin Gray to the plate. Battling time and time again, Gray pushed it to a full count before smoking a ball back up the middle that Bowden snagged to end the inning.
“I thought we had them,” Golloway said. “Cody Nulph is a good contact guy. When we were left on left (Gillikin) I thought about squeezing him in. I thought no because they would mix in a couple of pitch-outs, but they gutted a couple early on us. I know the strategy there is the quicker they can get to two strikes the quicker they take that out of the equation, and they took it out of the equation quick.
"I can’t say enough about Melvin Gray’s at-bat. It was 3-2 and I know you guys were feeling it because I was feeling it in the box. It was ball four or bang, and he smoked a ball. It just wasn’t meant to be. I think it’s going to move us in the right direction, I do.”
Melvin Gray lines out to the pitcher to end the ninth inning
In the 10th with reliever Izaac Yarbrough on the mound, Wiseman singled to start the inning and that brought Robby Clements out of the Auburn bullpen to face the heart of the Vanderbilt order. Getting Dansby Swanson to pop up to Gray at second on a play that almost turned into a double play, Clements gave up a laser single to left off the bat of Zander Wiel to put runners on the corners with one out.
Needing just a fly ball to regain the lead, Vanderbilt got one as Bryan Reynolds lifted one deep enough to center to score Wiseman with the eventual game winner. Bowden closed the door in the 10th to earn his fourth win of the season while Yarbrough took the loss.
With the series tied the Commodores wasted little time jumping in front in the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader. With two outs and nobody on the first Auburn starter Rocky McCord hit Swanson with a pitch to bring heavy hitting Wiel to the plate. Already with two home runs on the weekend, he got a pitch to drive and roped a double to score Swanson and make it 1-0 Commodores.
Auburn countered by loading the bases in the bottom of the first and it was Nulph at the plate for the Tigers with a chance to do some early damage. Hitting the ball on the nose, Nulph hit the ball right to the Vanderbilt third baseman. He stepped on third and threw to first for the double play to end the inning.
In the second the Commodores knocked McCord out of the game with a pair of one-out singles getting things started. Following a fielder’s choice to retire a runner at second, Wiseman walked to load the bases for Swanson. That’s all he needed as his double scored a pair of runs for Vanderbilt.
Already down 3-0, Auburn went to Dalton Rentz out of the bullpen and he quickly got a ground ball for what should have been the final out, but Haecker booted it for the error to allow Ro Coleman to score from third. Reynolds finished off the scoring with a single to make it 5-0 early for the No. 4 Commodores.
Riding a streak of 16 1/3 scoreless innings as a starter, Vanderbilt freshman Jordan Sheffield finally gave up a run as the Tigers got to him in the fourth with a pair of runs. With one out Gray and Ben Craft both singled to bring Kyler Deese to the plate. Already with three RBI on the weekend, Deese pulled a ball just inside the bag at first base for a triple to score both runners and make it a 5-2 game.
A solo shot off the bat of Robert cut the lead down to just a pair in the fifth, but Vanderbilt pushed it back to three in the top of the seventh when Reynolds homered off Auburn closer Justin Camp to make it a 6-3 lead. Coming on in the fourth, Camp kept the Commodores at bay until the blast to make it a three-run deficit once again. That set the stage for the dramatic finish to game two on Saturday.
In game one it was a case of giving too many gifts for the Tigers as three errors and six walks contributed directly to seven Vanderbilt runs in a 10-5 victory for the Commodores. The Tigers actually got on the board first with a pair of runs in the first inning off Walker Buehler, but after that it was all Vanderbilt the rest of the way.
The big inning game in the third as the Commodores scored four runs to take command of things early without the benefit of one hard hit ball. Starting things with a pair of infield singles off Auburn starter Trey Wingenter, Vanderbilt’s Jeren Kendall was hit by a pitch to load the bases with nobody out. Speedy Ro Coleman then hit a high hopper over the head of Haecker at third to score a run and tie the game.
Following a force at the plate for the first out and a pop to short, Wiel hit a blooper to center field to score two runs. When Grier overran the ball for an error it allowed Coleman to score all the way from first for the fourth run of the inning.
Now up 4-2, Vanderbilt tacked on two more runs in the fifth on an Auburn error. With runners on second and third and two outs, Reynolds hit a ground ball behind the bag at first that Robert couldn’t handle. The error allowed two runs to score and just like that it was a four-run lead.
Auburn got one back in the sixth on a Grier RBI single, but Vanderbilt put the game away with three runs in the seventh and and another in the eighth on the way to a 10-5 win.
The Tigers return to action Tuesday night at 5 p.m. CDT when they travel to face Georgia Tech in Atlanta.