Starkville, Miss.--Following a pair of shutouts to open the series against Mississippi State, Auburn couldn’t get anything going offensively themselves on Sunday as the Tigers dropped a 3-1 decision to the Bulldogs with the only run coming on a Keegan Thompson home run.
With the loss Auburn falls 17-11 overall and 3-6 in SEC play while Mississippi State improves to 19-11, 3-6 in league action, but the Tigers leave with an important series win over the Bulldogs.
On a day when the Tigers got quality pitching from deep in their bullpen it was the lack of offense that was the difference as Auburn managed just four hits off Bulldogs’ pitchers Vance Tatum and Trevor Fitts.
Getting just one and two/thirds innings from starter Dalton Rentz, Auburn was forced to go to the bullpen early and that resulted in seven different Tigers seeing time on the mound in Sunday’s game with Robby Clements going the longest, allowing just one hit in two and two/thirds innings. While the group allowed just nine total hits and three runs to the Bulldogs, it turned things into a mad scramble early said Coach Sunny Golloway.
“It kind of takes you out of a rhythm, but I thought our bullpen came in and pitched it pretty well,” Golloway said. “We played great defense, but we just didn’t hit today. Whether that had to do with them pitching it really well or us just not waiting more on selective pitches I’m not really sure. We’ll look at the tape, but our guys competed really well with no errors on the weekend.”
With an offense that has been running on empty with three consecutive shutout losses entering Sunday’s game, Mississippi State loaded the bases in the first inning off Rentz before a Rea groundout got the Tigers out of the jam. It wouldn’t take long for the Bulldogs to end a 29 1/3 scoreless inning streak however as John Holland led off the second with his first home run of the season to make it 1-0 Mississippi State.
Batting for just the fifth time this year after focusing on his pitching this season after breaking a bone in his foot late in the 2014 schedule, Thompson got a pitch to drive in the third inning and didn’t miss it. Driving the ball deep to left the sophomore hit his first home run of the season to put Auburn on the scoreboard and tie the game.
“It was a two strike change-up he threw me and I was a little bit out in front," Thompson said. “I tried to swing at a good pitch and it just happened to go over the fence. Right now I’m feeling good up there. It’s just going to take a little bit more time to get my timing down, especially facing pitchers with a little more velocity. I’m going to work on it and hopefully get a few more at-bats in there."
In the fifth inning the Tigers had a chance to move in front when Melvin Gray singled to left field to start the inning and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Cody Nulph. Gray finished the day with two of Auburn’s four total hits.
Melvin Gray had a solid weekend at second base for the Tigers.
Following a walk to Thompson and with a chance to put the Tigers in the lead right fielder Sam Gillikin instead bunted the runners into scoring position with two outs. The move didn’t pay off as reliever Trevor Fitts entered the game on an 0-2 count to Anfernee Grier and eventually retired him on a full count to end the threat.
Mississippi State finally got the offense going in the bottom of the sixth off Auburn reliever Trey Wingenter. Following a single by Gavin Collins, big Wes Rea stepped to the plate looking for anything positive. Hitting just .086 in SEC play at the time, he got a fastball and drilled it deep to center field. Breaking back on the play, Grier got his glove on the ball before crashing into the wall. With both Grier and the ball on the ground the massive Rea cruised into third with a triple to score Collins. When Ryan Gridley followed with a single up the middle it was quickly 3-1 Bulldogs.
Mississippi State would threaten one more time in the eighth inning when the Bulldogs loaded the bases, but Auburn closer Justin Camp got the Tigers out of the jam to keep them within striking distance. Fitts closed the door with a perfect ninth inning, however, to secure his second win of the year.
“The way we pieced it together with Coach (Tom) Holliday working that bullpen was really big for us,” Golloway said. “We really believed until the last out that we were going to be able to come back and do it. We hit some balls really hard in the eighth and ninth, but they were right at them. That’s just baseball sometimes.”
Auburn returns to action Tuesday when the Tigers take on Samford in Birmingham. First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m. CDT.