Coach Butch Thompson (above) saw his Tigers finish their season on Saturday.
Nashville, Tenn.--Needing to win just one of three games at Vanderbilt to qualify for the SEC Baseball Tournament, the Auburn Tigers were not up to the task as their season ended on Saturday with a 4-3 loss to the Commodores.
“We competed, but just left too many men on base,” said Auburn’s first-year head coach, Butch Thompson, whose team posted a 23-33 overall mark and an 8-22 record in SEC play. Vanderbilt finished the regular season 41-15 overall and 18-12 in the league.
“We really fought,” Thompson said. “I think we had 10 hits and three runs. We just needed a little bit more and it was a little too late. I appreciate them finishing that way. I just met with the team and talked about what is next for us and how we'll try to move forward and build our program. That is where our focus will go to immediately.
“I appreciate this group,” Thompson added. “They went through a transition, just like all of us have been. Our fans have been great and I tip my hat to them. They deserve better and they will get better. Today for these young men the season comes to an end. I appreciate them going through that and being respectful to me and our coaching staff through this time.”
Auburn’s loss, combined with Tennessee’s victory at Georgia on Sunday, put the Vols one game ahead of the Tigers in the league standings.
Auburn took the lead in the top of the fourth thanks to one swing of the bat from Anfernee Grier. With two outs and nobody on Wright left a pitch over the plate and Grier made him pay with a solo shot to left field. That blast was his 11th of the season and put the Tigers in front, but the lead could have been more.
Coming up after Grier, Melvin Gray doubled for his second hit of the game to bring Jordan Ebert to the plate looking to extend the lead. Lacing a single through the left side, Ebert appeared to make it 2-0 Auburn, but Vanderbilt appealed that Gray missed third base on his run to the plate and he was called out to end the inning.
Auburn had a chance to add to its lead in the top of the fourth with a pair of walks and an error on a Kyler Deese ground ball loaded the bases for the Tigers with two outs, but Cody Nulph struck out to end the threat for the Tigers.
Escaping the jam gave Vanderbilt some life in the bottom of the fourth as Bryan Reynolds singled to start the inning and moved to third on an Alonzo Jones single to put runners on the corners with nobody out. The third consecutive single tied the game at one before a Will Toffey groundout pushed across Jones to put the Commodores in front. A stolen base set the table for Connor Kaiser and he came through with the fourth single of the inning to make it 3-1 Vanderbilt.
In the fifth Grier again got to Wright with his second homer of the game. That cut the lead down to one with still plenty of time left for Auburn, but Vanderbilt would again answer in the bottom of the sixth. Doing more damage, Reynolds tripled to lead off the bottom of the sixth and later scored on a sacrifice fly to push the lead back to two.
The Tigers had a chance to tie the game or take the lead in the eighth inning. Deese started a rally with a single and moved to second base on a single by Damon Haecker. With two outs Deese scored on a single by Cody Nulph.
A walk to Grier loaded the bases for Gray, who ended the threat with a ground ball to third base.
The Tigers then went down 1-2-3 in the ninth to end the season.
"Anfernee had a great day against one of the top, special arms in our league,” Thompson said. “He hit two home runs and was really the reason they went to the bullpen when they did. Casey Mize just shows you what he can be and gives you so much hope for the future."
Mize, a freshman, struck out an SEC season high seven batters while pitching six innings. He dropped to 2-5.
“For all the seniors I just thank them for what they did," Thompson said. "This was not the year any of us wanted, but I know they are going to be part of something special as we rebrand Auburn baseball and get this program to where we want it to be. Special thanks to our fans and the people that have hung with us. We’ve got to keep fighting hard to get this program where it needs to be and we will do it.”