Long Ball Finishes Off AU In Regional Exit

Auburn gave up a pair of home runs to College of Charleston's Nick Pappas and that was the difference as the Tigers fell 3-2 to end the season.

Tallahassee, Fla.--In the end it was the long ball that did in Auburn in the NCAA Tournament once again as Nick Pappas hit a pair of home runs to account for all three College of Charleston runs as the Cougars bounced the Tigers 3-2 to end the season for Coach Sunny Golloway’s club. Giving up four home runs in the regional opener on Friday to Charleston, Auburn once again was the victim of two mistake pitches and this time it was for good.

The loss closes the door on the year for the Tigers as they finish 36-26 overall following the first regional appearance in five years for the program. Looking to make some noise this weekend in Tallahassee, Golloway said they just weren’t good enough in the end.

“They’re extremely disappointed, we’re all extremely disappointed,” Golloway said of the loss and exit from the regional. “We’re really surprised we didn’t score more runs. Then to get beat on a walk and two home runs, which is the same way they beat us earlier in the tournament, is extremely disappointing but that’s baseball and it happens.”

On the flip side the Tigers had several opportunities to score, but couldn’t come up with the big hit in critical situations. No time was more obvious than in the bottom of the eighth when reliever Chase Henry gave up a single to Melvin Gray to start the inning on a good note for Auburn. Instead of bunting the runner over however the Tigers were swinging away and Jordan Ebert’s fly ball to right field was out number one. A groundout by Robert off closer Carter Love moved Gray to second base with two outs, but another groundout from Blake Logan left the Tigers down one going to the ninth.

All season long Auburn has been a team that played small ball to try to maximize scoring opportunities. That wasn’t the case on Sunday night however as the Tigers had several opportunities to bunt runners over, but instead were swinging away. Golloway said they felt like the offense could get the job done and that changed their philosophy, but it didn’t work in the end.

“We just felt like, and nothing against them on the mound, but we felt like what we saw on the mound we were really going to be able to hit and hit well,” Golloway said. “And we didn’t. That’s probably the most disappointing thing. Through the recruiting process and development process we’ve got to change offensively, we’ve got to change a lot offensively.”

Robby Clements pitched well for the Tigers in the loss

On the mound Auburn got just about everything the Tigers could ask of starter Dalton Rentz and reliever Robby Clements. Pitching four innings, with a six and a half hour delay coming after the first, Rentz allowed just one run on three hits. Pitching four and two/thirds innings of relief, Clements allowed just one hit and struck out five to take his first loss of the season.

“They both pitched really well,” Golloway said. “For Dalton to come back after the break, I wasn’t sure and he just convinced Coach (Tom) Holliday. He’s big and he’s strong and he threw like he was fine.

“For Robby Clements to come in and pitch the way he did, he’s a senior and (Jacob) Milliman and Rocky McCord are our seniors,” he added. “I’m really happy they got to compete in a regional, but by the same token I wish we could have gone further. That’s what I want our program to be about. They pitched really well and only four hits, but we didn’t execute when we needed to execute.”

It didn’t take long for the long ball to bite the Tigers as Pappas gave the Cougars the early lead in the second off Rentz with a blast over the wall in right field. Following a scoreless first inning and the long delay, Rentz left a pitch up to the big left-hander and he didn’ t miss it.

Facing College of Charleston starter Nathan Helvey, Auburn couldn’t get anything going early, but finally managed to get things kicked off in the fourth. With one out Daniel Robert walked and advanced to second on a Blake Logan groundout to move into scoring position. Smashing a ball off the glove of the third baseman for his first hit of the regional, Anfernee Grier put runners on the corners with Damon Haecker coming to the plate.

Daniel Robert slides into second base

Getting something to handle, Haecker singled to center field to easily score Robert to tie the game. Rounding first hard, Haecker took off for second when Morgan Phillips bobbled the ball in center field, but he was thrown out trying to stretch it to a double. That ended the inning, but not before Auburn had tied it up.

In the fifth the Tigers took the lead thanks to some two-out magic from the top of the batting order. Up just trying to get on base, Jackson Burgreen drew a walk and stole second to move into scoring position for Melvin Gray. Another walk put a pair of runners on base for DH Jordan Ebert and he delivered. Falling behind in the count 0-2, Ebert fought off a pitch and lobbed a single into left field to score Burgreen and put the Tigers in front 2-1.

Coming in for the Tigers in the fifth, Clements pitched a pair of scoreless innings before Pappas would again put a hurting on Auburn. Facing Blake Butler to lead things off, Clements walked him on four pitches to put the pressure on. That proved to be a big mistake as he grooved the first pitch to Pappas and he deposited it over the right field wall for his second home run of the game to put College of Charleston back in front 3-2. That’s how it would finish to bring Auburn’s season to a close, but not before a little excitement in the bottom of the ninth. Pinch hitter Kyler Deese was hit by a pitch with two outs to bring another pinch hitter Ben Craft to the plate. Jumping on the first pitch, Craft launched a deep fly ball to center, but Phillips ran it down to end the game and the year for the Tigers.

The Tigers finished with six hits on the day and RBI from both Ebert and Haecker. Auburn left seven runners on base in the loss.

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