The loss drops Auburn two games behind both Tennessee and Vanderbilt for eighth in the SEC with just six games remaining. Coach Steve Renfroe said the loss was a huge one for his team after playing so well for much of Sunday's game. While the offense came around to score 11 runs on 15 hits, it was the pitching that once again was the achille's heel for the Tigers.
Auburn starter Steven Register gave up seven runs on six hits in four and two/thirds innings in his first career start. He gave up three home runs on the day after allowing just three all season coming into Sunday. The junior said this is not the kind of day he was hoping for and his team is now fighting for its life with two weeks remaining in the league.
"It's tough," Register said. "Our hitters put us in a situation to win and we just didn't pitch. We didn't get the job done. It really puts us in a hole going into the last two weeks in the SEC."
Relievers Mike Felix, John Madden and Jared Shore didn't fare much better with Shore suffering the worst. The freshman allowed back-to-back doubles in the sixth inning that tied the game for South Carolina, the first coming on an 0-2 pitch. Renfroe said the pitching just didn't get it done on Sunday and that was the difference.
"To be honest it was really a frustrating game," Renfroe said. "You strike a guy out and he gets on to start an inning. Then you bring guys in and they walk and walk and walk. Then you get 0-2 and throw it down the middle. That hurt us there. We were trying to get to where we didn't have to go with Corey (Dueitt) and Chris (Dennis) for too long. Corey pitched great and Chris came in and looked like a closer. That was a tough, tough loss."
With one out in the top of the fifth and trailing 8-4, the Gamecocks began a comeback that would eventually be the difference in the game. Kevin Melillo started the rally with a single to right field, but was erased on a fielder's choice off the bat of Steven Tolleson for the second out of the inning. Unfortunately for Register two outs were not a relief on this day. A walk to Landon Powell put runners on first and second for Winn and the right fielder delivered with a long home run to bring the Gamecocks to within one.
That would be the end of Register's day, but not Auburn's problems as reliever Felix walked both Michael Campbell and Steve Pearce and fell behind Ryan Mahoney 1-0 before Renfroe went to Madden in the pen. Madden finished the walk of Mahoney off to load the bases for Davy Gregg. The center fielder hit a slow roller just in front of the mound that Madden fielded and threw low to Sain at first. The error allowed two runs to score to give South Carolina the 9-8 lead, but Auburn would answer back with a long ball of its own.
Leading off the bottom of the inning catcher Mike Hyntka collected his third hit of the day and fifth in a row in the series with a single to center field. A sacrifice bunt by Sain moved Hyntka to second and Tug Hulett reached on an error by the second baseman to bring Clete Thomas to the plate. On fire of late, Thomas drilled a long home run over the right center field wall to give Auburn back the lead, but again it wouldn't stand on this wild day at Plainsman Park.
Melillo led off a rally one more time for the Gamecocks with a walk off Madden to open the sixth. Renfroe again went to the bullpen, this time for freshman Jared Shore. The move wasn't a good one as Tolleson ripped a double down the left field line to score Melillo from first and make it 11-10 Tigers. The damage was just starting as Powell drilled a double of his own into the right field corner that scored Tolleson to tie the game. Renfroe then went to Dueitt and he responded with a strikeout of Winn before a single by Michael Campbell scored Powell from second for the eventual game-winner.
Early on it looked like the Tigers would walk away with the game as a big second inning put them in good position. Leading off the second Sean Gamble doubled to get things going and Josh Bell and Ben Sprague both singled to push across Gamble with the first run of the inning. A sacrifice bunt moved both runners up for Hyntka and he delivered with a ground-rule double over the right field wall to score both runs and give Auburn a 3-2 lead. Singles by Sain and Hulett and a Thomas sacrifice fly pushed across the final two runs of the inning to give Auburn a 5-2 lead. Two in the third and a single run in the fourth built the lead to 8-4 before the Gamecocks started the victory rally.
Leading the way at the plate for Auburn were Bell and Hyntka with three hits each. Thomas added two hits and four runs batted in for the second consecutive day while Hulett and Sprague also added two hits. Winn's three hits led South Carolina, but Melillo, Powell and Pearce all had two hits.
Sunday's game took over 5 hours to play because of a 1:31 rain delay before play began. Auburn returns to action Friday night at 6:30 p.m. when they take on Georgia in the first of three games at Plainsman Park. The Bulldogs have won 11 games in a row and are in second-place in the SEC East at 15-9.