Pensacola, Fla.--Auburn pitchers allowed just two hits to Southern Miss, but nine big walks contributed to all three runs for the Golden Eagles as they defeated the Tigers 3-1 on Sunday to leave Butch Thompson’s team winless in three games at the Cox Diamond Invitational.
Despite three hits from Jordan Ebert, Auburn’s offense managed just one run on the day and it was the only run in the final 26 innings at the plate for the Tigers.
“We weren’t able to get enough guys on base and then the moments, I think at the end of the day when we look back at a three-game series we wound up leaving a lot of guys on base,” Coach Butch Thompson said. “It was a little different the way we lost this weekend, but nonetheless we’re kind of square back to even.”
The lack of clutch hitting continued on Sunday for the Tigers with 11 strikeouts a huge reason for the lack of run production. Despite getting runners on base and in scoring position early and often they could manage just a single run on an Ebert single in the third inning. Facing a very strong Southern Miss team one run wasn’t going to be enough on this day, but it nearly was thanks to the pitching of Cole Lipscomb who Thompson said gave his team a chance to win along with the rest of the starting pitching this weekend.
Getting the start on Sunday after missing last weekend’s rotation because of a violation of team rules, Lipscomb gave the Tigers every opportunity to get a win because of his work on the mound. Throwing 117 pitches in six and two/thirds innings, Lipscomb allowed two runs on two hits and struck out eight in the loss but his five walks were part of nine allowed on the day for the Tigers when you throw in relievers Tavo Rodriguez and Marc Frazier.
“Jordan is leading us in every way," Thompson said of Ebert. "He had the three hits and made a couple nice plays defensively. It was good to see Cole perform today. He stayed in there a little longer than maybe we wanted, but he really wanted the baseball. Outside of that fourth inning, he was really in control. They only had two hits for the entire game and that is something to build off of. I think our pitching really showed us something this weekend.”
Facing left-hander Kirk McCarty for Southern Miss, Auburn (6-6) got some early scoring opportunities and that started in the first inning with a two-out walk to Josh Palacios and Ebert’s first hit of the day putting the Tigers in business, but first baseman Niko Buentello struck out to end the threat. The second inning was much of the same as Blake Logan singled, but was erased on a double play off the bat of Daniel Robert. It proved to be huge as Cody Nulph followed with a double that would have been enough to score a run, but when Damon Haecker struck out it was another scoreless inning for Auburn.
The Tigers finally got on the board in the third when Grier singled to lead things off and when Melvin Gray was hit by a pitch it gave Auburn first and second with nobody out. Following a Palacios fly ball, Ebert singled to score Grier and put runners on the corners with nobody out for the heart of the Auburn order. That didn’t matter on this day however as Buentello struck out and Logan ground out to end the threat.
As well as Lipscomb pitched on this day it walks that led to his only trouble on Sunday. In the fourth he walked the first two Southern Miss hitters he faced before he made an error on a bunt attempt to load the bases with nobody out. Recovering to get a double play helped Lipscomb escape a huge jam, but the tying run scored in the process to even things up.
Auburn tried to take the lead back in the sixth when Buentello was hit by a pitch and Logan walked to start the inning. That brought Luke Lowery out of the Southern Miss bullpen and he got the job done, coaxing pop ups from Robert and Nulph before striking out Haecker looking to end the inning.
Still going strong, Lipscomb ran out of gas in the seventh but not before another walk would come back to haunt him. Facing Daniel Keating, Lipscomb just missed a strikeout on a 2-2 count before issuing the leadoff walk. The Tigers then had Keating dead to rights on a steal attempt, but a miscommunication allowed him to reach second. Following a sac bunt a deep fly ball to Robert in right field was just deep enough to score Keating to give Southern Miss a 2-1 lead.
In the bottom of the eighth Rodriguez walked the leadoff hitter before Frazier came in to replace him. Following a stolen base and an intentional walk to keep the double play in order, Frazier walked to more before getting out of the inning to give the Golden Eagles a two-run cushion.
Thompson pointed out that the bright spot for the Tigers was the play of Ebert. "Jordan is leading us in every way," the coach said. "He had the three hits and made a couple nice plays defensively.”
Auburn returns to action Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. when the Tigers take on Georgia Tech at Plainsman Park.