With the loss Auburn falls to 32-20 overall and 12-15 in SEC play and is in real danger of missing out on an NCAA Regional after being in very good shape for making postseason play heading into the weekend.
“Clearly the scoreboard is not going to be indicative of how close the game was,” Auburn Coach Sunny Golloway said. “My concern with my history of college baseball is that the committee is just going to look at the final score when they’re looking at your last 10 ball games that you played. This one is going to pop up and the committee is going to look at that 14-4 and that’s not going to bode well for Auburn.”
The reason the contest out of hand was sloppy play by the Tigers from start to finish in every aspect of the game. Auburn pitchers allowed 16 hits and walked seven while the Tigers added five errors on defense and had multiple mental errors as well.
Combine that with just seven hits of their own, a team-high two from Jackson Burgreen, and you have a monumental collapse to one of the most important weekends in recent years for the baseball Tigers.
“It’s going to be tough,” Golloway said of how to come back from the sweep. “I’m not going to sit here and candy coat that. I don’t see a whole lot of leadership in the infield because I felt like we were out of position on some bunt defense. We were surprised by a delayed steal. We didn’t cover the bag three times on the weekend and didn’t cover first twice.
“I think there is a simple answer for me and that’s to try to get Haecker (Damon Haecker) back in the infield. He’s the closest thing to a leader that we have. If I bring Hack back in it would be a major move late in the year to put him at short or put him at third and move Nulph to third or Deese to the outfield. It would be a major move, but it’s one I’m going to contemplate the rest of the day.”
On the mound Dalton Rentz had a solid outing for the Tigers, allowing just one earned run on five hits in four innings of work. Even though Auburn’s bullpen allowed 11 runs the rest of the way only five were earned as the Tigers’ defense fell apart to give Alabama the easy victory.
Georgie Salem and J.C. Wilhite each had four hits for Alabama on Sunday while Cody Henry added three hits and four runs scored. On the mound starter Geoffrey Bramblett earned the win, allowing three runs on four hits in six innings.
It didn’t take long for Alabama to jump in front on Sunday as the Crimson Tide took full advantage of the help the Tigers gave them in the second inning to score three runs. Leading things off Kyle Overstreet singled to put Alabama in business before a walk to Henry put the heat on Rentz. Up to bunt, Wilhite laid one down the third base line for a hit, but Kyler Deese compounded the problem with a wild throw to first that allowed Overstreet to score.
With runners on the corners Rentz uncorked a wild pitch to move Wilhite up to second with still nobody out. Another walk loaded the bases for Alabama before Rentz recovered to get the next two batters. Looking like the Tigers might get out of the jam with just one run allowed, Alabama’s Salem hit a slow roller toward the bag at second but Cody Nulph booted it for an error. That allowed run number two to score and when Mikey White singled it was quickly 3-0 Alabama.
Auburn was unable to get anything going against Alabama starter Geoffrey Bramblett with just one hit in the first five innings, allowing the Crimson Tide to add to their lead in the sixth. The second hit of the game for Wilhite got Alabama going before Will Haynie stepped to the plate. Hitting a long home run on a fastball in Friday night’s game, Haynie got a first-pitch fastball from reliever Izaac Yarbrough and mashed it high down the left field line for a two-run homer. The play was reviewed before the umpires confirmed the home run, giving Alabama a 5-0 lead.
The Tigers finally got the offense started in the bottom of the sixth as Deese walked and Melvin Gray followed with an infield single to put runners on first and second for the heart of the Auburn order. Continuing his tough weekend Anfernee Grier struck out for the seventh consecutive time in the series and for the ninth time in his last 10 at-bats. Up next, Daniel Robert smoked a pitch down the first base line and by the time he quit running he was at third base with a two-run triple. Damon Haecker followed with a single through the right side to make it a three-run inning for Auburn and cut Alabama’s lead back to just two.
In the seventh Alabama got a big run back as Trey Wingenter came on in relief for the Tigers and gave up a double to Cody Henry and a single to Wilhite to put runners on the corners. Trying to hit the corner, Wingenter threw one by catcher Blake Logan for a wild pitch to allow Henry to score and make it a 6-3 Alabama lead.
Auburn had a big opportunity for a big inning in the bottom of the seventh as Alabama went to the bullpen for reliever Ray Castillo. Singles from Austin Murphy, Jackson Burgreen and Deese put the Tigers in a great position with just one out for Gray. His fly ball to right field wasn’t deep enough to score the run and that brought the No. 3 spot up for Auburn. That’s normally Grier, but his funk meant it was time for a pinch-hitter as Sam Gillikin came in to face the right-handed Castillo. Working the count full, Gillikin earned a walk to push across Murphy and make it a two-run game, bringing Robert to the plate.
The most consistent and dangerous hitter for Auburn in SEC play, Robert smoked a pitch deep to left-center that looked like it would at least score two. Getting a good jump on the ball, Salem dove and snared the ball just off the Plainsman Park turf to secure the third out and keep Alabama in front 6-4.
“I thought when we loaded the bases and Salem made a great catch, you’ve got to give him credit there, but if he doesn’t make that catch we’re able to take the lead,” Golloway said.
In the ninth Auburn fell apart as Alabama scored eight runs off four different pitchers to break the game wide open on the way to the sweep. The big play came with one out and runners on the corners. Trying to squeeze home an insurance run, Riley Colburn put down a perfect bunt that Deese fielded but threw away at first to allow the run to score and runners to advance to second and third. That took the air out of Auburn as Alabama added a single to start the big finish.
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