Auburn falls to 27-19 overall and 9-12 in SEC action while South Carolina improves to 32-12, 12-9 in conference play. Coach Tommy Slater said that his team just kept working and just came up short on a day when they could have let the game get away from them.
"Our guys battled," Slater said. "They played the whole game and they never give in. I'm just real proud of them. Clarence Nicely did a good job of keeping the game in check for us at a time when it really could have gotten out of hand. That game had a chance to get ugly and Nicely did a good job of keeping it in check. The guys just continued to battle on offense and put together some at-bats and do some things and make the game close. Our guys continued to battle into the ninth."
In addition to Nicely, who came on in relief for the Tigers, Auburn used four pitchers including starter Cliff Mullins. The freshman allowed just two runs on four hits in three innings of work and is the hard-luck loser in this game. Reliever Jared Shore had perhaps his worst outing of the season, giving up four runs on five hits in just one inning of work. Grant Cardwell gave up two runs on four hits in one inning as well before Nicely and John Madden were able to keep the Gamecocks at bay the final three innings. By then it was too late as they had built a six-run lead on Auburn.
Thomas hit his seventh home run of the season in Sunday's loss.
Ahead just 2-1 the Gamecocks extended their lead in the bottom of the fourth inning as Mark Stanley led things off against Shore with a single. Auburn-killer Brendan Winn followed with a double to left field that scored Stanley easily and put South Carolina up 3-1. Shore was able to get out of the inning as he got three consecutive ground balls to close the inning with Auburn still trailing by two.
Auburn got the run back in the top of the fifth inning and threatened to do more damage, but the arm of Winn kept that from happening. Bruce Edwards led off the inning by earning a walk and shortstop Adam Stacey followed with a double into the gap that gave Auburn runners on second and third with nobody out. Second baseman Tyler Johnstone plated Edwards on a fly ball to right field that was just deep enough to score the run and cut the lead to one.
Following a Clete Thomas strikeout that left Stacey on second, Josh Bell hit a sharp single into right field that looked like it would tie the game. Unfortunately for Auburn Winn was in right field. The sharpshooter from the outfield gunned down Stacey at the plate, his second assist of the day, to keep South Carolina in front and give the Gamecocks some momentum heading to the bottom of the inning.
Leading things off against Shore Steven Tolleson doubled to put the Gamecocks in business and Steve Pearce followed with a double of his own to bring Phil Disher to the plate. Struggling for most of the season he got a fastball from Shore and sent it deep over the wall in left field for a long home run that put South Carolina ahead 6-2. A solo home run by Winn later in the inning made it 7-2 Gamecocks and essentially put this game to rest. The Gamecocks added a single run in the next inning to make the lead six, but Auburn didn't give up and showed some life in the eighth.
Leading off the inning Johnstone singled and moved to second on a walk to Thomas. Bell then singled to center field to load the bases with nobody out and bring Karl Amonite to the plate. Before the first baseman could do any damage a wild pitch moved everybody up a base and scored Johnstone from third. Amonite came through with a single that scored Thomas and put runners on the corners with still nobody out.
South Carolina closer Brent Marsh came on for the Gamecocks and quickly struck out Jeff Boutwell for the first out of the inning. True freshman Russell Dixon followed with a good at-bat as he fouled off several two-strike pitches before lifting a fly ball into the outfield to score Bell from third. Josh Donaldson made the final out of the inning, but not before the Tigers cut the lead to just three with one inning remaining.
In the ninth the Tigers just kept fighting as pinch-hitter Joey Huskins reached and advanced to second on an error by Tolleson with one out in the inning. Following a groundout by Johnstone, Thomas came through with a long home run to center field to cut the lead to just one with one out remaining. It just wasn't to be on this day as Bell struck out to end the game with Auburn on the short end of an 8-7 score.
With the loss the Tigers fall into a tie for last place in the SEC West with the Arkansas Razorbacks. Both teams are 9-12 in league play and a half-game behind Mississippi State. The top eight teams in the league make the SEC Tournament and currently the Tigers are tied for 9th and only two games out of seventh with nine games remaining.
In the first inning Auburn took the early lead thanks to the heart of the order. Thomas doubled with one out and Bell earned a walk to give Amonite the early RBI opportunity. He came through with a single that scored Thomas with the game's first run. That would be all though as the Tigers left two stranded after one half inning of work. South Carolina's Nick Geisler hit a two-run home run in the second inning to put the Gamecocks in front for the first time and they wouldn't trail again on the way to the victory.
Thomas led the way for the Tigers with three hits and two runs batted in while both Bell and Amonite added two hits. The top four in the Auburn order accounted for eight of the team's 11 hits and five of the six RBI. South Carolina had six players with at least two hits on the day as the Gamecocks pounded out 16 hits.
The Tigers travel to Troy to face the Trojans in the final mid-week game of the season on Tuesday night. Game time is scheduled for 6 p.m. Next weekend the Tigers take on the Ole Miss Rebels in a three-game series at Plainsman Park.