The win completed the sweep of the three-game baseball series for Clemson (3-0) while Auburn fell to 7-4 on the season.
The loss spoiled a terrific pitching performance by Eric Brandon. The sophomore was strong all afternoon and threw six innings of solid baseball to give the Tigers a chance at the win. Even with the loss he said this was a good weekend for his team playing in a challenging road environment like Clemson.
"I felt pretty good out there today, but it's tough to see a game go by like this," Brandon said. "Knowing that I gave up that home run and I shouldn't have given up that. I also gave up two hits after that and that led to two runs. I wish I could have come out when it was 2-0 and we would have won the game...This series helped us out a lot. We lose by one run, two runs and three runs and we're right there in them. One play goes our way and we win. We feel bad that we lost, but it will be good for us."
With the game tied at two, Auburn finally had the inning the Tigers had been looking for all weekend in the top of the eighth. With one out and nobody on, Mike Mueller drew a walk from relief pitcher Jarrod Schmidt, who moved to the mound from right field. Scott Schade would follow the pattern by earning a walk of his own to give the Tigers runners on first and second with nobody out.
After a Trent Pratt pop out to the third baseman, Josh Todd came to the plate looking to continue his solid weekend. He did that and more by drilling a fastball off the left field fence for a two-run double that gave Auburn the 4-2 lead.
Just as in the Friday and Saturday games, Clemson would come up with the big hits when it needed them most. In the bottom of the eighth it would be Jeff Baker who once again was the difference in the game. With Cory Dueitt throwing for Auburn, Clemson started the inning in familiar fashion by blooping a single off the glove of shortstop Chuck Jeroloman in shallow left field. A base-on-balls to catcher Steve Pyzik followed, sending Dueitt to the showers and bringing new closer Ken Clayton into the game.
Things started off badly for Clayton as he hit leadoff man L.J. Demaino with his first pitch, loading the bases for the meat of the Tiger order. He struck out Kyle Frank for the first out of the inning, but a walk to shortstop Khalil Greene forced home the first run of the inning to make the score 4-3. That's when Baker would deliver. Running the count to 1-2 against Baker, Clayton spotted a fastball on the inside corner that should have been called strike three but it wasn't to be for Auburn as home plate umpire Damien Beal continued a less than stellar day behind the plate by calling it ball two. That would be huge for both teams as on the next pitch, Baker drilled a fastball to the fence in right field for a double that scored all three runners to give Clemson the 6-4 lead.
"We're tough," Auburn coach Steve Renfroe said following Sunday's game. "But I'm not happy and we're not happy. We're really ticked off to be quite honest with you. We strike the guy out right there, a no-doubter. But it doesn't happen and he then he hits one the other way. That's why he's an All-American. Kenny threw a couple of great pitches but didn't get them. I thought that was big. No excuses. We're just out there all day long and competed, but it's tough to take. We did battle. We battled hard…we just have to find a way to stop the bleeding."
So many times this weekend Auburn seemed within a hair of taking over a game and the top of the ninth inning was no exception. Jeroloman led things off for the Tigers with a single to center field. A walk to Javon Moran followed and all of the sudden, Auburn had life against the the Tigers, who are ranked in the Top Five nationally in the major polls.
Jonathan Schuerholz, in at second base for defensive purposes, came though on the offensive end with a single up the middle that loaded the bases for Bobby Huddleston. Doing something that has become a new part of his game, Huddleston was patient at the plate and drew a walk to force home a run and make the score 6-5 with nobody out and defensive replacement John Tyler coming to the plate. With the infield back, there was only one place Tyler could put the ball in play that wouldn't result in an Auburn run. Unfortnately for Auburn, that's exactly where he hit the ball as he drilled a one-hopper back at Paul Harrelson, who forced out Moran at home for the first out of the inning.
Following a familiar pattern of heartbreak this weekend for Auburn, Scott Schade grounded into a 6-4-3 double play to end the game and complete the sweep for Clemson.
Auburn got on the board first against the third-ranked Tigers by doing what it does best, playing small ball. Josh Todd led off the inning with a single up the middle off Jackson. Sean Gamble followed with a single of his own down the left field line to put runners on first and second. Just like so many times before this weekend Auburn couldn't put a big inning together as a sacrifice and an RBI groundout by Javon Moran scored Todd, but that was all the Tigers could muster as they headed to the bottom of the third leading 1-0.
Josh Todd heads to third on a sacrifice bunt by Chuck Jeroloman. He would later score Auburn's first run on a groundout.
That lead wouldn't last for long though as Clemson answered immediately with two runs of its own in the bottom half to take the lead 2-1. The first came off the bat of Colin Mahoney, a freshman catcher. Starting his first game, he took a fastball from Brandon deep over the left field fence for a solo home run to even the score at one. Leadoff man L.J. Demaino was up next and he set the table for the next run by lining a triple down the right field line. He would score just moments later as Kyle Frank singled to left to push him across for the 2-1 lead. Brandon would settle in after that and retire the side to keep the lead at just one.
Auburn had a great chance to tie the game or even take the lead in the fourth, but once again squandered the opportunity. Huddleston led off the inning with a double down the right field line and Mueller followed with a single up the middle to put runners on the corners with nobody out. Tough luck would strike the Tigers with Schade at the plate next as he ripped a ground ball right at Jeff Baker, the Clemson third baseman. Unable to stop his reaction, Huddleston wandered off the bag just enough to get caught by Baker for the first out of the inning. A fly ball by Pratt and a Todd strikeout would close the door on the Tigers in the fourth.
From that moment on it became a game for the pitchers as Brandon and Clemson starter Steven Jackson would dominate the opposing hitters for the next three innings. Brandon, in just his second start of the year, had perfect innings in the fourth, fifth and sixth to keep Auburn squarely in the game. Jackson, making his first start, allowed walks in both the fifth and sixth before giving way to Patrick Hogan to start the seventh. That move would pay dividends for Auburn as with one out, Sean Gamble drilled a fastball deep over the right field wall for his first home run of the season to tie the game at two each.
Sean Gamble crosses home plate following his first college home run.
Brandon would give way to freshman Reid Price to start the seventh. Pitching six complete innings, allowing just two runs on four hits while striking out seven, Brandon did his part by delivering Auburn's best starting outing of the weekend. Price looked shaky to start things off as he walked Baker to give Clemson a base runner and after Johnson bunted to move him to second, Renfroe went to the bullpen for sophomore Cory Duiett. Showing the stuff that made the coaches comfortable when they moved him to the pen, Dueitt struck out Schmidt and coaxed pinch-hitter Zane Green into a groundout to put an end to the Clemson threat and keep the score tied at two heading to the seventh.
Auburn returns to action Tuesday when they are hots to the South Alabama Jaguars at Plainsman Park. The first pitch is scheduled for 3 p.m. as Levale Speigner will likely get the start for the Tigers against the always-tough Jaguars.
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