Auburn, Ala.--Facing the league’s worst team the No. 4 Auburn Tigers fell flat on Saturday, dropping a doubleheader to Alabama to grind their momentum to serious halt.
Losing the opener 4-3, Coach Butch Thompson’s club went down 7-6 to in game two to lost just its second series of the season.
Entering the weekend 11-2 in one-run games this season while Alabama was just 3-12, Auburn dropped a pair of games in disappointing fashion. In the second game the Tigers outhit Alabama 15-8, but left 11 runners on base, including the potential tying run in the bottom of the ninth.
To make matters worse the sweep came at the hands of an Alabama team that had won just two conference games on the season. The losses drop Auburn’s record to 32-16 overall and 14-9 in SEC play and put their NCAA Tournament host hopes in serious jeopardy, needing a Sunday win to avoid a sweep.
All season long Auburn has dominated the routine play, something Thompson has harped on since day one. On Saturday that wasn’t the case as the Tigers struggled defensively and with runners in scoring position and less than two outs. Committing just 17 errors in the first 21 SEC games this year, the Tigers made five in two games on Saturday with Alabama scoring runs after each mistake.
Those are the things that the Tigers had done well all season long and didn’t do well on Saturday, the difference between winning and losing.
“I didn’t think we played our best,” Thompson said. “There were balls that we continued to have that when we think we would get it underway we just kept on and kept on opening the door. It just didn’t work out for us today.
“I’m disappointed,” he added. “I thought our guys just competed very hard. I don’t think we executed, and I think there’s a difference between competing and executing. I will say that I think we’ve executed better in SEC play. I really thought they tried to finish as hard as they could, especially in the second ballgame.”
A team that has been the underdog since they stepped on the field to start the year, Auburn entered Saturday's doubleheader as a decided favorite for one of the few times in SEC play against a team with nothing to lose in Alabama and Thompson said he felt like his team played a different way.
"We've played the game so loose and free this year," Thompson said. "I thought we looked like the most hesitant team today. I thought Alabama was much looser and freer, a nothing-to-lose style of playing the game. That seemed to be our calling card where we just played the game and were so free and easy. I thought that was a reversal today if we're trying to hunt and find things.
"I told our guys nothing should change. You can't get anything back from today. Tomorrow's game is huge in order to try to have success."
Back on the mound for the first time since April 12, sophomore Casey Mize threw 75 pitches in six innings, allowing two earned runs on four hits. Leaving the game with the score tied, the Springville native gave his team a chance to win said Thompson.
“It was really nice to have Casey back out,” the coach said. “I thought he really sharp and really healthy. I did think once he got to about pitch 60 he looked a little fatigued after missing two starts.”
At the plate Jonah Todd and Joshua Anthony led the way with three hits each for the Tigers with Dylan Ingram, Damon Haecker and Jeremy Johnson adding two hits each. Starting both games of the doubleheader, Johnson added a career-high three RBI in game two for the Tigers.
Dropping the opener with two Chandler Taylor home runs and a pair of Auburn errors the difference, the Tigers again gave Alabama plenty of help in the second game. After looking good early, Mize struggled to open the third, giving up a one-out single to Connor Short on an 0-2 pitch.
Center fielder and number nine man Walker McCleney followed with a double to put runners on second and third for Chandler Avant. A ground ball to second went under the glove of Jay Estes at second for an error, allowing both runs to score to make it 2-0.
Auburn answered back to tie the game in the fourth with a pair of runs. First baseman Dylan Ingram started it with a solo home run to left to put Auburn on the board. Anthony and Damon Haecker kept things going with back-to-back singles before Jeremy Johnson’s sacrifice fly scored Anthony to tie the game.
Pitching into the sixth, Mize would allow his third and final run with Chandler Avant doubled to lead things off and eventually scored on a Cobie Vance single. Finishing the inning with a pair of spectacular defensive plays, Anthony came up in the bottom of sixth and unloaded a long solo homer off the scoreboard to once again tie things up at three.
Taking over for Mize in the seventh, Mitchell didn’t have his usual stuff and it showed up early as Kyle Kaufman singled and Sam Finnerty doubled to put Alabama back in front. Following a wild pitch, Mitchell struck out Short but Alabama executed a squeeze perfectly to score the second run of the inning and take the lead back 5-3.
In the eighth Alabama added two more runs thanks to a pair of errors by Auburn to open the inning on Holland and Mitchell respectively. After getting Taylor on a strikeout, Mitchell exited for reliever Calvin Coker but two straight singles made it a four-run lead for the visitors.
Not giving in, Auburn got singles by Anthony and Haecker to open the eighth off reliever Mike Ozypok to put runners on the corners with no outs. Facing reliever Davis Vainer, who got the save in the first game on Saturday, Jeremy Johnson’s ground ball to the right side scored Anthony to make it a three-run game.
A two-out walk to Holland put a pair of runners on base with Todd coming to the plate. Already with two hits, the left-hander singled up the middle to score Johnson and when the throw went to third it allowed Todd to advance to second. With two outs and the tying run at second Estes struck out to end the inning.
In the ninth Auburn got a one-out single from Ingram and a two-out walk to Haecker before Johnson singled through the right side to score Ingram and cut the lead to just one. With runners on the corners and two outs and pinch runner J.J. Shaffer just 90-feet from home, pinch hitter Blake Logan struck out looking on a very questionable call to cement the doubleheader sweep for the Tigers.
Auburn will try to avoid a sweep on Sunday when freshman Davis Daniel takes the mound against Nick Eicholtz for Alabama. The first pitch is scheduled for 4 p.m. and can be seen on the SEC Network.
Tiger Ticket Notes:
*Auburn starting shortstop Luke Jarvis left the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader after tweaking his back again, forcing Holland into the lineup for the remainder of the two games. Missing two of the three games last weekend with a sore elbow, senior Daniel Robert was a late scratch on Saturday and Coach Butch Thompson said both will have to be evaluated more closely but will likely be out for at least Sunday’s game.