Missed Opportunities Haunt Baseball Tigers

Auburn drops to 0-2 in the SEC with its second-straight loss to the Kentucky Wildcats.

Auburn, Ala--Sometimes you get the feeling that it's just not meant to be. So many times in the last few years the Auburn Tigers have found ways to win close games with a late hit to drive home the winning run, but Saturday that chance came and went as three different players came to the plate with the winning run on base, only to see the opportunity pass them by.

The result was a 4-3 loss to Kentucky that drops Auburn to 0-2 in the SEC this year and 16-5 overall while the Wildcats improve to 14-5 overall and 2-0 in league play.

"We just haven't gotten a big hit," Auburn Coach Steve Renfroe said. "That's just one of those things. Somebody has to come through. They did what they had to do again. We gave them some free bases with walks and hit batters and they made a couple of things count for them. Again we had three errors and there is nothing solid right now."

Trailing 4-2 in the bottom of the ninth inning, the anemic Auburn offense began to show signs of life and Ben Maitland singled up the middle off reliever Matt Scott to open the inning. One out later Tug Hulett reached on the most fortunate of situations as his slow ground ball back to Scott on the mound was misplayed, allowing both runners to reach safely.

Josh Bell then drilled a single through the left side that was too sharp to score Maitland, but it did load the bases with one out for Clete Thomas.

Moved down to fourth in the Auburn lineup as Coach Steve Renfroe tries to find some chemistry on offense, Thomas had responded with one hit and also reached on a walk. Facing an off-speed left-hander in Scott, Thomas got ahead in the count 3-1, but failed to take advantage as he hit a ground ball to Spencer Graeter at second base for out number two. The play did allow Maitland to score and cut the lead to just one with Chuck Jeroloman coming to the plate.

A clutch hitter his entire career also known for his good eye at the plate, Jeroloman quickly got ahead in the count on Scott before the Wildcat staff decided to do the smart thing and intentionally walk the junior to load the bases for Sean Gamble. Auburn's current active leader in two out RBI, Gamble has struggled to get anything going offensively this season, hitting just .228 before the at-bat. Unfortunately for Auburn that would remain the case as his ground ball to Graeter put an end to Auburn's hopes of a comeback and gave Kentucky their first road series win since 2002 at Arkansas.

"You have to adjust to every type of guy," Renfroe said. "People aren't going to say, Here, hit it.' The guy did a great job. They did a super job of mixing and we have to find a way to get an opportunity to adjust and make a big hit. We had a couple of opportunities that could have changed the game and we left runners there."

While the offense continued to struggle, scoring just six total runs in the last three games, the pitching wasn't much better as starter Mike Felix and reliever Cory Dueitt couldn't get the job done against the Wildcat attack. Auburn's most consistent pitcher of late, Felix allowed two runs and two hits in three and two/thirds innings. He walked four Kentucky batters and struck out two. Dueitt also threw three and two/thirds innings, giving up six hits and one earned run.

"He struggled today," Renfroe said of Felix. "It was probably not one of the better ones that he's had. He really had no rhythm and just didn't have any of his pitches going, but he battled. I thought Cory did okay and Steven (Steven Register) threw well."

It didn't take long for the Wildcats to scratch off Felix as Graeter doubled to left-center to get the game under way in the first and later scored on a groundout by Caleb Stewart for the 1-0 lead.

It would stretch to 2-0 in the fourth as back-to-back walks by Felix put a runner in scoring position for catcher Justin Scutchfield and he delivered with a single to left to put the Wildcats up 2-0.

Auburn would answer back in the fourth as Thomas opened the inning with a single to left. His speed caused Kentucky problems as an errant pick-off attempt at first allowed him to go all the way to third base with nobody out in the inning. Jeroloman then came through with an infield single that scored Thomas from third. Trailing 2-1, the Tigers appeared like they were poised to make a run, but it wouldn't happen.

Kentucky added another single run in the sixth on a Graeter single to score Scutchfield before Auburn answered in the seventh. With one out Derek Sain doubled to left field to give the Tigers some life and Maitland followed with a single up the middle to score the sophomore from second. Trailing just 3-2 Auburn was in good shape, but Kentucky added an insurance run that proved to be huge in the eighth.

The thorn in Auburn's side did it again in the eighth as Scutchfield reached on an error by Maitland to start the inning. One out later Jake Kungl walked to put an end to Dueitt's day and bring on Register. After a Stewart fly out to left, Register would allow the eventual game-winning run to score when Mike Breyman singled to right. Auburn would make a run, but come up short in its bid for the first SEC win of the season.

The Tigers try to salvage a game on Sunday with sophomore Josh Bell expected to get the start on the mound. Game time is scheduled for 12:15 p.m.

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