Tigers Blow Lead In Loss To Arkansas

Auburn's hopes for postseason play took a serious hit in a Friday night loss to Arkansas.

Fayetteville, Ark.-–Arkansas overcame a six-run deficit Friday night to defeat the Auburn Tigers 9-7 in the first of a three-game series between the two teams at Baum Stadium. Leading 7-1, Auburn gave up eight unanswered runs in two innings to drop its ninth decision in its last 12 games. Coupled with a Tennessee victory over Florida, the Tigers must win twice and have two Tennessee losses to earn a berth in the SEC Baseball Tournament in Hoover.

The victory improves Arkansas to 36-18 overall, 18-10 in conference play, while Auburn falls to 31-23 overall and 11-17 in SEC play. The 17 losses are the most for a Tiger team since the 1996 squad finished the year 12-18 in conference action.

"They're the best club we've seen," Auburn Coach Steve Renfroe said. "They are very dangerous all through the lineup. We gave them too many free bases and we don't get a bunt down. We were trying to keep pecking away. They're outstanding on defense and ours cost us a little bit. We came to play and these kids have done that, but we didn't hold it."

Scott Hode led the way for the Hogs at the plate with four hits while both Casey Rowlett and Danny Hamblin added three hits. Arkansas collected 13 hits on the night off Auburn pitching. The Tigers were led by Sean Gamble's three hits while Chuck Jeroloman added two. The duo combined for five of Auburn's 11 hits.

Sean Gamble

For a while it looked like the Tigers would blow the Hogs away. In the first Tug Hulett led off with a single through the left side and Ben Sprague bunted only to see Arkansas cut down Hulett at second base. A walk to Clete Thomas put a runner in scoring position for Josh Bell, but a ground ball to third base erased him for the second out of the inning. Gamble then came up with a big hit, doubling to left center to score both Sprague and Thomas for the early 2-0 lead. A Jeroloman infield single scored a husting Gamble all the way from second base for the next run and the Tigers closed out the inning with a fourth run on a Josh Sullivan single to center field that scored Jeroloman from second.

Arkansas got one run back in the third on a Brady Toops solo home run, but Auburn would answer back in the fourth. Sullivan led off with a walk from starter Clint Brannon and Ben Maitland followed with a bunt single. A perfect sacrifice bunt by Hulett put both in scoring position for Sprague and the right fielder came through with a single to right that scored Sullivan. That would be it for Brannon as reliever Ryan Lennerton came on, but Auburn wasn't finished.

A possible huge inning was dealt a blow right away when Sprague was caught stealing at second for the second out of the inning. Thomas walked to bring Bell to the plate in a key situation. The struggling sophomore singled through the right side to score Maitland and give Auburn the 6-1 lead. A wild pitch from Lennerton pushed across Thomas with the inning's final run and just like that Auburn had a six run lead, but it wouldn't last long.

Strong through the first four innings, Hughey looked as if he would cruise through the fifth until a two-out single by Casey Rowlett gave the Hogs some life. That's all it took to create disaster for the Tigers as Clay Goodwin followed with a double to left that put runners on second and third with two outs. Hode delivered, drilling a triple to right center that scored both runners to cut Auburn's lead to four.

A Haas Pratt walk and another double, this one from Danny Hamblin, made it 7-4 Auburn and Hughey's day was done. John Madden came on for Auburn and quickly got in the center of a storm as pinch hitter Brett Hagedorn hit a grounder back to the junior. Bobbling the ball, Madden rushed his throw and missed the mark at first. Derek Sain couldn't come up with the throw, allowing two runs to score. Madden managed to record the final out, but the damage was done and it was just beginning.

Tug Hulett

With the lead down to just one Auburn went to work in the top of the sixth looking to answer the Hogs, but the Tigers would come up empty on this frustrating night. Hulett led off the inning with a walk and Sprague followed with a bunt just in front of the plate. The Arkansas catcher overran the ball slightly and that hiccup allowed Sprague to beat the throw to first, putting runners on first and second.

That would bring on Jay Sawatski for the Hogs and he did his job, getting Thomas on a ground ball up the middle. The Hogs got Sprague at second, but Thomas' speed allowed him to beat the throw to first. Staying out of the double play, Thomas quickly stole second with Bell at the plate. Unfortunately for the Tigers Bell struck out to bring Gamble to the plate. The junior was then hit by a pitch to bring Jeroloman to the plate with the bases loaded, but a ground ball to Goodwin at third put an end to the Auburn rally.

Arkansas took the lead for good in the sixth when Stephen Robison walked to start the inning. Following a ground ball to Maitland for the first out, Rowlett hit an infield single to Maitland at third base. Throwing low to Sain, Maitland's error allowed Robison to move to third.

That proved to be a huge play as a sacrifice fly to left scored Robison to tie the game. The throw from Gamble allowed Rowlett to move to second and he was kept at third when Jeroloman dove to keep a single on the infield. However singles by Pratt and Hamblin scored two more for the Hogs to make it 9-7 Arkansas. Auburn failed to score off Sawatski the rest of the way as Arkansas held on for the win.

Auburn sends ace Steven Register to the mound in game two against Charley Boyce for Arkansas. Register is 6-0 with a 3.78 ERA while Boyce is 7-1 with a 3.18 earned run average. The game is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. and there is no television.

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