Auburn, Ala.--It was a case of too many missed opportunities for the Auburn Tigers on Friday night as Arkansas scored three runs in the ninth inning to break open a tie game and earn a 10-7 SEC baseball victory at Plainsman Park.
Joe Serrano’s two-run single was the big blow for the Razorbacks as they scored eight runs in the final four innings to take the all-important Friday night victory.
With the loss Auburn falls to 18-12 overall and 3-7 in SEC play while Arkansas improves to 15-14 and 4-6 in conference action.
Getting the win in relief for Arkansas was Zach Jackson. Pitching the final three innings, he allowed two runs on two hits, but was the beneficiary of some strong offense from the Razorbacks to improve to 3-0 on the year. Auburn reliever Trey Wingenter (1-4) took the loss for the Tigers, allowing four runs on five hits in just two and two/thirds innings on the mound.
In a game that went back and forth all night it was a pair of big innings for Arkansas that made the difference. It wasn’t just what happened in those innings for the Razorbacks, however, it was how they came about said Auburn Coach Sunny Golloway.
On two different occasions the Tigers had an opportunity to break the game open, but couldn’t come through with the clutch hit. The fifth inning was perhaps the biggest opportunity as Auburn loaded the bases with one out and a 5-2 lead, but couldn’t get a clutch hit to push across a run. That proved to be a huge part of the game the second-year coach said.
“I think going back to the 5-2 lead with the bases loaded and one out and we don’t score, and when we don’t score there they really ride that momentum,” Golloway said. “They come back and hit a couple of solo home runs, but our guys did a really good job at the plate. You can’t fault our guys at the plate. They fought back and I thought when we got the lead in the seventh inning we would be in good shape with our bullpen and being able to finish the the thing off, but we were unable to.”
With the game tied in the top of the ninth inning it was Arkansas that made the winning plays as Tucker Pennell came off the bench with a one-out single off Wingenter before Clark Eagan blasted a double off the right field wall to put runners on second and third for Serrano.
Already with an RBI on the night, Serrano took an 0-2 pitch back up the middle off Auburn closer Justin Camp to push the Razorbacks in front 9-7. Advancing to second on the throw, Serrano later stole third base and scored on a Andrew Benintendi sacrifice fly to give Jackson a three-run cushion to work with in the ninth inning.
“Tonight was just an absolute battle,” Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said. “Just a credit to our offense for not giving up. I made the comment earlier that we’re down 5-2 and they have the bases loaded with one out and Trey Killian got out of it. He gave us life and he gave us hope. Without hope you don’t have anything. We had hope and here we come. We pop a couple of home runs and the dugout was alive again and we were back in the game. The next thing you know we’re winning.
Arkansas took an early 2-0 lead in the third inning off Auburn starter Cole Lipscomb after he hit number eight hitter Michael Bernal before giving up back-to-back doubles to Alex Gosser and Eagan. After getting a two-run lead from his offense however, Killian ran into some serious trouble in the bottom half of the inning.
Blake Logan tags out an Arkansas runner at the plate
Leading things off for Auburn as a pinch hitter, freshman Austin Murphy singled up the middle for his first hit as a Tiger. That opened the floodgates for the offense as Anfernee Grier and Damon Haecker both following with singles to load the bases for Logan. Getting a pitch to handle Logan doubled to drive home a pair of runs and put runners on first and second for the Tigers with still nobody out.
Following a sacrifice fly from Daniel Robert, Melvin Gray reached on an error to keep the inning going for the Tigers and bring Deese back to the plate. Already with a double on the night, Deese ripped a single back through the middle to make it a 4-2 lead for the Tigers. A Nulph groundout finished off the scoring for the Tigers as a huge five-run inning gave Lipscomb some cushion to work with on the mound.
The redshirt sophomore made it stand up until the Arkansas offense caught fire in the top of the sixth. Leading off the inning Serrano unloaded on a pitch that easily carried over the green monster in left field for his third homer of the season. When Benintendi followed with his eighth on the next pitch it was suddenly a one-run game.
Following a strikeout Spoon singled and then advanced to second on an errant pickoff attempt from Lipscomb. That ended a streak of 48 1/3 errorless innings for the Tigers and proved to be big as a groundout to the pitcher that would have ended the inning instead kept a runner on second with two outs. Deciding to go to the bullpen for Wingenter proved to be the wrong move for Auburn as he gave up back-to-back singles to Bobby Wernes and Bernal to put Arkansas back in front 6-5.
With Killian running out of gas after throwing 106 pitches in six innings, the Razorbacks went to the bullpen for Jackson. Coming in with a 2-0 record and an ERA of just 1.33, Jackson couldn’t find the strike zone as he walked Logan and Robert to start the inning before coming back to get Gray on strikes. A great at-bat by Deese went to 10 pitches before working another walk to load the bases with one out for the Tigers.
Quickly getting ahead of Nulph 1-2, Jackson left a breaking ball over the heart of the plate that the shortstop sliced through the right side for a single to score Logan and tie the game at six. Following a J.J. Shaffer strikeout, Jackson’s fifth walk of the inning put Auburn in the lead as Robert trotted home on the Murphy walk to put Auburn in front 7-6.
Wingenter committed the cardinal sin in baseball by walking the leadoff man in the top of the eighth and it came back to hurt him as Benintendi stole second with one out before moving to third on a wild pitch. An infield single by Spoon pushed across Benintendi from third to tie the game at seven and set the stage for the late game drama.
Auburn and Arkansas will play game two of the series at 6 p.m. CDT on Saturday in a game that can be seen on the SEC Network.