"We battled and played hard throughout the whole game," Slater said. "I thought our kids had great approaches at the plate once again. I thought our relief corps did a real good job, but I told our kids little things are what win ball games. In the first inning we make an error to start the game, and then it doesn't get scored an error but we have a mental error with the lack of fly ball communication in right center on a ball that dropped and cost us two runs. If you take the actual error plus the mental error, then it probably cost us three runs in the first. If we don't make those we're probably looking at a different type of ball game."
Thomas was the man for the Tigers on Saturday, becoming just the second person ever to hit for the cycle in an Auburn uniform. He had five of Auburn's 14 hits on the day as the Tigers pounded Arkansas pitching for at least one hit in every inning, but came up on the short end of the score. It wasn't until the final out though that they would give up the fight.
Trailing by two in the bottom of the ninth, the prospect for a comeback looked bleak as the first two hitters were sat down by Arkansas reliever Lee Land, bringing Bruce Edwards to the plate. Striking out on a low breaking ball, Edwards broke for first when the ball got away from catcher Brian Walker. The move was a smart one for the Tigers as Walker's throw was wild, giving Auburn some life.
Thomas had eight hits in the last two games of the Arkansas series.
A single by Tyler Johnstone gave even more hope as it brought Thomas to the plate looking for his sixth hit of the day. It wasn't to be this time around as a fly ball put an end to the Auburn comeback once and for all, but Thomas said that he's proud of the accomplishment and what the team did this weekend.
"I'm not really thinking about it right now," Thomas said. "I didn't really know about it until the ninth inning. I was just looking for a pitch to hit hard, but I didn't hit it hard. It was a great series. It's too bad we couldn't get the sweep, but we'll just try to build on this and fix what we did wrong."
Sunday's game got off to a terrible beginning for the Tigers as starting pitcher Josh Blake just didn't have it. Leading off the game Cliff Arnold reached on an error by third baseman Josh Donaldson and that opened the door for a huge inning for the Hogs. Center fielder Craig Gentry was up next and he singled to center field. After Chris Hollensworth was hit by a pitch, Danny Hamblin singled to center field to score Arnold and Gentry and put the visitors ahead 2-0.
Scott Hode continued the onslaught, reaching on a bunt single that Blake couldn't field off the mound. A fly ball to right field off the bat of Blake Parker plated the third run of the inning before Clay Goodwin delivered the big blow of the inning. Driving a pitch into the gap, Goodwin doubled home Hamblin and Hode to make it 5-0 Arkansas after just one-half inning.
Auburn began the comeback in the bottom of the first with Thomas continuing his hot streak. With one out in the inning Thomas tripled into the right field corner and scored just moments later when Karl Amonite followed with a double of his own into right. The Razorbacks got the run back in the third inning on a solo home run by Parker, but the Tigers hit for a big inning of their own in the bottom of the inning to get back in the game.
Leading off, it was once again Thomas that got the inning started as he singled into right field and moved to second on an error by the Hogs. A walk to Amonite set the table for Josh Bell, who singled to score Thomas and make it 6-2 Arkansas. One out later Josh Donaldson earned a base on balls to load the bases for left fielder Joey Huskins. The junior college left-hander delivered with a single to center field to score two and make it 6-4 with still just one out. The final run of the inning scored when Donaldson broke from third base on an attempted bunt by Phillip Stringer. Parker, the Razorback catcher, came up throwing and threw the ball into left field. Donaldson scored easily and just like that the score was 6-5 heading to the fourth.
The Hogs would add onto the lead with a run in the top of the sixth before Thomas would strike again. Leading off the bottom of the inning he hit a shot into left field that just cleared the wall under the scoreboard for his third of the season. Arkansas again answered the bell with a pinch-hit home run by Jake Dugger to lead off the seventh against Madden. It was the first earned run given up by Madden in his last 21 innings pitched.
Neither team would score the rest of the way as Michael Nix came on to shut the door on Arkansas for the final two innings. For the day Auburn's bullpen allowed eight hits and three runs in eight innings of work. Arkansas' bullpen was even better as Daryl Maday and Land combined to allow eight hits, but just one run in six and two/thirds innings.
At the plate for the Tigers Amonite added two hits along with Huskins, who got the start in left field. Arnold, Goodwin and John Henry Marquardt all had two hits for the Razorbacks.
In a strange twist on Sunday the game almost didn't happen because of a new NCAA rule that calls for games played with a curfew to be completed fully or not count in the record books. That meant Auburn's game with the Hogs had to be finished by 1 p.m., something that was quickly certain not to happen following three long innings to begin the game. Both coaches got together during the game and decided just to play the game out, something Slater said he hopes to never have to do again.
"The SEC is the one that told us we had to play at 10:30," Slater said. "They're the ones that set a 1 o'clock curfew. They're the ones that sent a million e-mails about what we have to do here or there. The NCAA doesn't count games that do not go nine innings. Dave (Van Horn) and I were both under the impression that fine, the NCAA doesn't count the games for rpi purposes but we thought the league would still count it. We got on the phone and found out that the league wasn't going to count it. We were both in agreement, Dave said ‘hey, we'll get on a bus if we have to in order to play this thing out'. It's just a mess to be honest with you. Unfortunately for Arkansas they are the ones that are in the middle of it the most because they have to travel the farthest."
Auburn returns to action Tuesday night at 7 when the Tigers take on top-ranked Georgia Tech at Plainsman Park. The game is part of the ‘All Auburn, All Orange' athletics campaign by Auburn. Auburn will travel to Mississippi State next weekend to face the Bulldogs in a three-game series.