Auburn, Ala.--In a game that went back and forth for much of the day on Sunday it was the Auburn offense that came up empty on too many opportunities as the Tigers fell 6-4 to drop an important SEC baseball series to the Arkansas Razorbacks and fall to 19-13 overall and 4-8 in SEC play.
Loading the bases in both the eighth and ninth innings and managing to score just one run, Auburn had a total of 19 base runners for the game, but had just four runs to show for it. Despite a bullpen that gave up four runs in the final two innings to blow a one-run lead, Coach Sunny Golloway said the struggle on offense was the story on Sunday.
“There were six innings out of the nine where we had a runner at second base with one out that we did not score,” Golloway said. “That’s pretty amazing because we scored in two of them. I haven’t seen something like that. I think that was the difference in the game.
“They brought in a pinch-hitter and he got a bases loaded hit to drive in two runs that wound up being the difference in the end,” he added. “We didn’t have clutch hitting today and we didn’t on Friday. We had some missed opportunities even in our win on Saturday. We’re just going to have to do a better job and have more of a drive-the-ball mentality with men in scoring position.”
With a 4-3 lead in the eighth inning Auburn sent reliever Dalton Rentz back to the mound for his second inning of work, but Rick Nomura singled to start the inning for Arkansas and give the visitors life. With one out the Razorbacks put Nomura on the move with No. 9 hitter Carson Shaddy at the plate and it was the right call as his double off the wall easily scored Nomura to tie the game 3-3.
Going to the left-hander to face Clark Eagan, Izaac Yarbrough got a pop up on the first pitch for the second out of the inning. With a righty coming to the plate Auburn finally turned to Camp, but his two-strike slider to Joe Serrano was sliced through the right side for a single to score Shaddy and put the Razorbacks in front 4-3.
With Jackson Lowery pitching his second inning for the Razorbacks the Tigers went to work in the bottom of the eighth as pinch-hitter Sam Gillikin got Auburn started with a one-out single. Continuing his strong play, Kyler Deese singled to left field to put a pair on base for the Tigers, but Lowery recovered to strike out Melvin Gray for the second out.
Sam Gillikin dives back to first on Sunday
Up in another key spot after getting hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to win Saturday’s game, Cody Nulph was again plunked, this time loading the bases with two outs for J.J. Shaffer. The Auburn native was unable to get the job done in the spot, however, as his pop up to first base left them loaded for the Tigers still trailing by a run.
In the ninth the Razorbacks added to their lead as Camp walked Chad Spanberger with one out before giving up a single to Bobby Wernes to put Arkansas in business.
Following a groundout, Camp walked Michael Bernal intentionally to load the bases so he could face Tucker Pennell. The third catcher of the day for the Razorbacks, and hitting just .171 for the season with one RBI, he took a pitch the other way for a two-run single to make it a 6-3 game.
Auburn loaded the bases in the ninth inning off Lowery and closer Zach Jackson. The Tigers got an RBI infield single from Deese to put the tying run on second base, but Gray struck out looking to end the game.
The victory was No. 500 at Arkansas for Coach Dave Van Horn as the Razorbacks improved to 16-15 on the season and 5-7 in league play. While none of the three games were beautiful, the coach said going on the road and winning the series was the main goal and his team just enough to get the job done.
“Obviously it’s a huge win for our team,” Van Horn said. “We were fighting it and probably Auburn feels the same way. This was a big game. Winning a series on the road against anybody is tough, but it’s somebody in the league and they’ve got a big RPI. We’re trying to catch up a little bit.
“I’m just proud of the guys for hanging in there because it wasn’t looking good early,” the coach added. “Their pitching was shutting us down a little bit and then we got a couple of big hits, one a seeing-eye single, and the next thing you know we’re winning the game. We got a big two-out hit there in the top of the ninth that wound up being the difference from one of our hitters that’s more of a defensive guy.”
The Tigers got a strong performance from starter Rocky McCord on the mound as he was thrust back into the weekend rotation, allowing two runs on five hits in six innings. Rentz took the loss for Auburn, allowing two runs on three hits in just one and one/third innings.
Lowery got the win for the Razorbacks, giving up one run on two hits in two and one/third innings.
Auburn got the scoring started in the third as Nulph singled to open the bottom of the third and advanced to second on a groundout to bring Grier to the plate. Getting a pitch to drive the sophomore blasted a double off the wall to score Nulph and put the Tigers on the board.
That is the way things remained until the fifth when one swing of the bat got Arkansas right back in the game. With Alex Gosser on base following a single, Andrew Benintendi stepped to the plate with two outs and pulled a pitch deep to right field that just slipped inside the foul pole for a home run. His ninth blast of the season tied the game at two and set the stage for yet another close finish at Plainsman Park.
Auburn answered in the bottom of the sixth with a Robert single the start of another Tigers’ rally. With one out Deese worked a walk from reliever Josh Alberius to bring Melvin Gray to the plate. Jumping on a pitch down in the zone, Gray ripped a single to left field that was too hard to score Robert, but it left the bases loaded for Nulph. Doing his job, Nulph got a pitch up in the zone and lifted it deep enough to left field to score Robert and put the Tigers back in front for the time being before Arkansas would take the late lead on the way to the win.