Auburn, Ala.--Trailing by three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning against Oral Roberts, the Auburn Tigers put together a rally to get within a run but a blown call on a ground ball to third base with the bases loaded and two outs brought the game to a close with Butch Thompson’s team falling 8-7. The loss drops Auburn to 6-8 overall while Oral Roberts improves to 7-5 on the season.
Scoring a pair of runs in the ninth inning after a leadoff double by Jordan Ebert and a single from Niko Buentello got the Tigers going, Auburn had a chance to tie the game or take the lead down 8-7. On third following after reaching on a walk earlier in the inning, catcher Blake Logan was the tying run for the Tigers with shortstop Cody Nulph at the plate. Facing Holden Commack on the mound the Tigers opted to try to bunt the run home, but Nulph’s bunt was back to the mound. Commack fielded and threw to the plate to cut down Logan for the second out of the inning.
Now with Jackson Burgreen on second and Nulph at first, pinch hitter J.J. Shaffer worked a walk to bring Auburn’s top hitter to the plate, junior Anfernee Grier. Getting ahead 2-0 in the count, Grier swung and hit a chopper down the third base line that Oral Roberts’ Chase Stafford fielded in foul territory just behind the bag for an apparent foul ball, but home plate umpire Craig Barron ruled it fair. Stafford stepped on the bag to end the game.
The blown call didn’t sit well with the Tigers as Thompson came sprinting out of the dugout to join third base Coach Doug Sisson in an argument with Barron, but it did no good as the call stood to end the game and give the Tigers a fifth consecutive loss.
“Right there we believe 100 percent that the ball is foul right there,” Thompson said. “But I’m not sure we deserve to win a lot of that ballgame and it doesn’t make any difference to me. I do disagree with the call that was made. It’s a three-man crew and when you get to SEC play it’s a four-man crew.
“You’ve really got nobody to argue with and I don’t know how you can reverse the call right there. You would have to have a fourth man there and that’s why the SEC has gone with that legislation for a four-man crew, for that exact instance. But I thought the sixth inning was the difference-maker.”
Grier's ground ball that clearly will start out in foul territory and stayed there, but was ruled a fair ball.
Battling from a 4-0 deficit to take a 5-4 lead, Auburn finally had some momentum for the first time in over a week but it didn’t last long. With one out and a 2-2 count on Trevin Sonnier, Camp hit him with a pitch to give Oral Roberts some life and they would make the Tigers pay. After getting the next batter on a strikeout, a Camp wild pitch moved the runner into scoring position and that proved to be important as Rotola’s high chopper to Nulph at shortstop was too slow for his throw to beat him at first base. Never slowing down, Sonnier rounded third and scored on the infield single to tie the game.
That would be all for Camp as Braymer came on in relief and poured gasoline on the fire. Following a stolen base and a walk to Roark, Braymer left a pitch over the plate to Whatley and he jumped all over it. The blast to left field bounced off the top of the Auburn scoreboard for a three-run shot to put the Golden Eagles back in front 8-5.
That set the stage for Auburn’s comeback attempt in the ninth inning that came up just short.
Struggling to score runs in the last five games the Tigers finally got some offense on Friday as Ebert and Buentello each had three hits while Josh Palacios added two hits as well. Unfortunately for Auburn the rest of the team had just three hits, leaving too many holes in the lineup to score runs consistently.
On the mound Justin Camp allowed five earned runs in five and two/thirds innings pitched to take the loss while Braymer allowed two runs on one hit in just one/third of an inning. Marc Frazier was very good in relief to finish things off, allowing just two hits and no runs in three innings.
For a team struggling to score runs Friday wasn’t the start that Auburn was looking for against Oral Roberts as the visitors wasted little time in making the Tigers pay for several defensive lapses. That started right away in the first inning as Camp walked leadoff man Nick Rotola to put the pressure on early. Facing Roark, Camp got ahead 0-2 but left a pitch over the plate that the left-hander smashed into the gap for a double.
The hit scored Rotola and brought Whatley to the plate looking for more. Getting ahead again, this time 1-2, Camp’s pitch caught too much of the plate and Whatley hit a line drive right at Grier in center field. Taking a few steps in, Grier realized his mistake too late and the ball sailed over his head for a triple. Quickly down 2-0 and with a runner on third things looked dire for Camp, but he recovered to get out of the jam with only a pair of runs scored.
That’s how things would stand until the third when Roark led off with a homer to right-center to make it a three-run deficit for the Tigers. An error and a walk put Oral Roberts in business before back-to-back infield singles scores the second run of the inning for a 4-0 lead.
After scoring just two runs in their last 37 innings the Tigers finally broke through against Oral Roberts’ starter Bryce Howe in the bottom of the third. Extending his hitting streak to 14 games, Grier’s single got Auburn started. Following a walk to Palacios, a single by Ebert loaded the bases for Buentello. For the first of two times on the day the first baseman singled, this one to put the Tigers on the board.
Logan followed with a sacrifice fly to cut the lead in half before a two-out walk to Kyler Deese again loaded the bases. Getting a pitch he could handle Nulph’s single scored the third run of the inning for the Tigers and gave them plenty of momentum.
Daniel Robert robs a home run in the fourth inning
With Camp settling in the Tigers came back for more in the fourth inning as Palacios singled and stole second before an Ebert single put runners on the corners for Buentello. Continuing the theme of singles on the day for the Tigers the first baseman singled up the middle to score Palacios and tie the game. When Logan followed with a single of his own the Tigers had come all the way back to take a 5-4 lead, but Oral Roberts would answer back in the sixth on the way to the win.
Auburn returns to action against Oral Roberts for game two of the series on Saturday. Freshman Casey Mize gets the start for the Tigers with the first pitch scheduled for 2 p.m.