Auburn made a run to tie the game, but a Josh Bell strikeout with two runners on closed the books on a wild one at Plainsman Park.
The Tigers are now just 2-6 in home SEC games this season and have lost all three series to Kentucky, LSU and now Mississippi State. Saturday the Tigers played solid baseball with 16 hits and no errors, but couldn't make the plays when they needed them the most. MSU collected 14 hits and committed five errors, but found a way to win.
Auburn Coach Steve Renfroe said the game was a frustrating one because of the missed opportunities his team had on Saturday.
"We had a chance to put them away and we didn't do that," Renfroe said. "We had a chance to score some runs and we didn't do that. We fought and battled. We fought back and we came up short. We have to stick together and find a way tomorrow. If you win you're ahead of them and right now that's the name of the game for us. We have to try to win and keep ahead of certain teams and see what happens. It's a hard one to swallow."
The loss spoiled some outstanding individual performances for the Tigers as Hulett tied a career high with five hits while center fielder Clete Thomas added three hits and two runs batted in. Coming off the bench, J.T. Williamson had two big hits and raised his average to nearly .330. Despite blowing the save late, Steven Register gave up just one run on four hits in five and one/thirds innings. He threw 76 pitches on the day before giving way to Corey Dueitt to begin the 13th inning.
"He had gone almost that far before and had not pitched in a week," Renfroe said. "He wanted to go back out, but we weren't going to do that."
Tied at six the Bulldogs came out swinging in the 13th inning off Dueitt. Brian LaNinfa tripled to left center to open the inning and that set the baseball strategy session in motion by the Tigers. With the infield in Tyler Jones grounded out to Hulett at second for the first out of the inning. Left fielder Jeff Butts then walked to put the double play in order, but with the infield in he quickly stole second. That forced Auburn to walk the next hitter to load the bases for Gendron.
Mississippi State's most experienced play, Gendron drilled a double into the gap in right center that Williamson finally got to at the warning track just to the left of the visiting bullpen. By the time the ball got back in the infield all three runners had scored to give MSU a 9-6 lead.
"We're trying to get a double play off a sinker ball, but we didn't get that," Renfroe said. "The guy got one up a little bit and hit it in the gap. We had another chance, but it just didn't happen for us."
Tug Hulett prepares to tag out a runner at second base during Saturday's game.
Auburn made a run in the bottom of the 13th as Mike Hyntka and Williamson both singled to open the inning. One out later both moved up on a wild pitch and Hyntka would score just moments later on a ground ball by Chuck Jeroloman. A Hulett single to right plated Williamson to cut the lead to one and Clete Thomas added a single of his own to put the tying run on second, but Bell couldn't catch up to an outside breaking ball from reliever Brad Corley and the Tigers had dropped yet another SEC home series.
Auburn didn't wait around to get the offense going on Saturday as Sean Gamble reached on an error to open the bottom of the first. Following a Jeroloman fly out, Hulett singled to left field to put Gamble in scoring position. Auburn's sophomore center fielder Thomas then came through with a single to right field that easily scored Gamble. Ahead 1-0 starter Arnold Hughey went to work to keep the lead and did that until the Bulldogs used class small-ball to take the lead in the fourth.
Mississippi State catcher Craig Tatum led off the fourth inning with a single to left field, bringing first baseman Brad Jones up in a bunting situation. The big lefty squeezed a bunt by Hughey to reach first safely. Thomas Berkery did the same to load the bases with nobody out. Berkery's could have been much worse if not for the heads up play of Hulett. Backing up first base he caught Hughey's wild throw to keep a run from scoring. It didn't matter in the end as a Tyler Scarborough single scored two and a sacrifice fly from Jeff Butts made it 3-1 Bulldogs.
Auburn got a run back in the fourth when Derek Sain hit his second home run of the season, a solo shot over the monster in left field. The Tigers would add to that in the fifth with the top of the order setting the table. Ben Sprague led off with a single to left and moved all the way to third following a throwing error on Gamble's sacrifice bunt attempt. Gamble was out at first, but Jones' throw went into left.
Jeroloman came through for the Tigers with a single to left that scored Sprague to tie the score. Hulett followed with a single of his own into left and not to be outdone, Thomas singled to center to score Jeroloman and give Auburn the lead. Showing signs of coming to life at the plate, Bell drilled a single into right field that scored both Jeroloman and Hulett. That wouldn't be the end of the excitement in the fifth as a close call caused some major fireworks.
Up after Bell, Sain hit a hopper that looked like would be a double play. Hustling down the line, Sain beat the throw, but MSU Coach Ron Polk didn't think so. He charged out of the dugout and got in the face of first base ump Rick Darby and quickly got tossed from the game. That didn't keep him from speaking his mind as he argued for a full five minutes before finally leaving the field.
The ploy worked as Mississippi State scored single runs in the sixth and seventh to cut the lead to just one. Auburn would go Register in the seventh to squelch the Bulldog rally, but he wouldn't be able to keep them off the board in the eighth. Leading off the inning, pinch hitter LaNinfa singled to right center to get the inning underway. Pinch hitter Tyler Jones then sacrificed him over to second base with a bunt. Looking for something positive to happen the Bulldogs' Butts singled to right field only to have Sprague gun down LaNinfa at the dish for the second out of the inning.
Despite that good fortune Register wouldn't escape trouble again as Jeffrey Rea singled to center field to easily score Butts after he stole second just two pitches earlier. While Register would retire the side and dominate the game until coming out following the 12th inning, it was his fifth blown save of the year and would cost Auburn dearly as the Bulldogs came on strong in the 13th inning to get the victory and win the series.
Sunday the Tigers will send Bell to the mound to face the Bulldogs. MSU will counter with Jeff Lacher. The game is set to begin a 1:30 and can be seen live on Comcast Sports Southeast.