Auburn now awaits its fate when the NCAA Regional selections will be announced at 11 a.m. CDT on Monday, May 25 on ESPNU.
Hoping to make a run in Hoover, Auburn sent junior Dalton Rentz to the mound looking to continue what has been solid work for the last month in a starting role. That wasn’t the case on Thursday as he allowed eight runs (four earned) on seven hits in just two and two/thirds innings to pick up the loss.
Robby Clements allowed three runs on seven hits in three and one/third innings of relief before Justin Camp and Will Thompson finished off the game with two scoreless innings out of the pen. It was a case of much too little and much too late on the mound for the Tigers, however.
Much like Wednesday’s loss to LSU when Auburn allowed six runs in one inning to the Bengal Tigers, Thursday was about one big inning for the opposition as Florida scored eight runs in the third to break open the game. Golloway said that was the story of the week for his team.
“Really two innings, just two ugly numbers,” Auburn's coach said. “The six-run inning against LSU yesterday and the eight-run inning today. That’s tough for any team to overcome. That’s something that hadn’t happened to us, but it happened to us here. We’ve got to do a better job of controlling that.”
Dalton Rentz struggled on the mound Thursday, taking the loss to drop to 3-4 on the year.
At the plate Auburn managed just six hits with no player getting more than one for the game. Melvin Gray scored a run and drove in Auburn’s only other run as the Tigers played their last 14 innings at the SEC Tournament scoring just two runs.
“Today we gave up the one inning with eight runs so that’s disappointing, but you’ve got to battle back,” Damon Haecker said. “That was early. We had to push runs across late and execute, but as a tournament and as a whole we got better. We know what we’ve got to work on going into next week. We just need to go back to work and get ready for next weekend.”
The Tigers are currently projected to be a No. 3 seed in next week’s NCAA Tournament by most pundits, but there will still be some drama with a 3-7 record in their last 10 games, the wins coming over Morehead State, Florida and Kentucky. While Auburn has some question marks, Golloway said the resume for his team is too strong to even be on the bubble at this point.
“I think we’re definitely in the NCAA Tournament,” Golloway said. “There’s no question there. I think of the lock teams we’re the seventh in our conference.”
With Rentz getting the start against a Florida team that lost a late-night heartbreaker to Arkansas just hours before, Auburn was looking for a fast start against what was expected to be a tired Gators’ team. That didn’t happen as Josh Tobias singled to start the second inning and later scored on a J.J. Schwarz sacrifice fly to put Florida up 1-0.
That set the stage for a disastrous third inning for Auburn as the Gators scored eight times, all with two outs, to put the game away very early. Things started innocently enough for Florida as Rentz hit Dalton Guthrie with a pitch with one out to start the rally. One out later Richie Martin put a bunt down the third base line that Kyler Deese bobbled and couldn’t field cleanly.
With two outs and runners on first and second, Rentz got ahead 1-2 in the count and appeared to get a check-swing strike which would have ended the inning, but it was called a ball and the appeal to third was denied. That proved to be huge as Tobias singled to center to score the second run of the game for the Gators, but they were just getting started.
A single by Peter Alonso, also with two strikes, made it a four-run lead before Schwarz singled to put two more runners on base for the Gators. A Harrison Bader smash to second was booted by Melvin Gray, allowing another run to score for Florida. Facing what would be his last batter of the game, Rentz allowed a double to the gap from Mike Rivera to put Florida in front 7-0.
Coming on in relief, Clements allowed a pair of run scoring singles before getting the third out of the inning. By that time it was 9-0 Gators and all over but the shouting.
“I thought when Martin laid down the bunt just to move a guy into scoring position with two outs, there’s a ball we could make a play on and we don’t make a play,” Golloway said. “The next thing you know the floodgate just opens and they score eight runs with two outs. That’s pretty discouraging.”
Facing Florida’s No. 1 starter Logan Shore, Auburn finally got on the board in the fourth inning when Melvin Gray doubled to left field to start the inning and later scored on a two-out single by Austin Murphy. Florida would added two more runs in the sixth before the Tigers scored for the final time in the bottom of the sixth. That came when Anfernee Grier tripled to open the inning and scored on a Gray groundout.
With the victory the Gators survive to face the loser of Arkansas-LSU to be played later on Thursday. For Auburn it’s wait and see when things are announced on Monday. The Tigers will hold a watch party at Bob’s Victory Grille beginning at 10:45 a.m. on Monday with the public invited to join the team.