Baseball Tigers Can Get No Relief In Tuscaloosa

Auburn jumped to a big lead before Alabama rallied in the opener of a three-game SEC series on Friday night.

Tuscaloosa, Ala.--Steve Renfroe summed it up all too well for the Auburn Tigers on a damp, chilly Friday night at Sewell Thomas Stadium as his team lost a five-run lead to fall 8-6 to Alabama.

"Their bullpen whipped our bullpen," he said. "That is all there is to it."

Taylor Tankersley saved the day (actually the night) for the Tide with 1 2/3 innings of quality pitching to earn the victory in relief of ace Lance Cormier.

Eric Brandon

Auburn starter Eric Brandon was pulled in the seventh inning with a 6-4 lead, but first Steven Register and then Mike Mueller couldn't stop the Tide comeback on Friday in the first of a three-game SEC baseball series.

"I had good stuff and good control, but I made two mistakes by getting balls up that they hit for two-run homers," Brandon said. "That was costly." Brandon says he prefers to pitch in hot weather, but said overall he thought it was a solid outing.

The second homer was the end of the night for the sophomore, who got no relief from freshman Register, who had been unhittable a week earlier on Friday night vs. Mississippi State. "Steven was struggling with his location," Renfroe said. "He will come back. Right now, we are still searching for consistency in the bullpen. That was the difference in the game. We just have to put this one behind us and get after them tomorrow."

That was the theme sounded by Javon Moran, who had two of Auburn's 11 hits. "We had a lot of good cuts in the game," he said. "It really hurts to lose this game. We had a lot of chances to win it. The only thing we can do now is to play well on Saturday and Sunday to get the series win."

Javon Moran

Auburn dropped to 9-10 in the SEC and 27-16 overall with the loss to the Tide, which improved to 36-7 overall and 14-5 in the SEC after scoring the winning run in the eighth inning. Bama stretched its lead to two games in the SEC West with Tennessee's victory over Ole Miss.

"I thought we had a lot of good swings against Cormier, who I think is a really tough pitcher," Renfroe said. "That was the encouraging thing I saw out there." The Tide ace pitched 7 1/3 innings before being pulled after giving up 10 hits and six runs, five which were earned.

Tug Hulett faces Tide pitcher Lance Cormier.

The Tigers and Tide return to action with a 3 p.m. game on Saturday that will be televised by SEC-TV and Fox Sports South. The series concludes with a 2 p.m. start on Sunday in a contest that is not televised.

Each team had its first scoring threat in the third inning. Auburn got Doug Vines to second base with a two-out single followed by a pitch in the dirt that advanced him into scoring position. Bama got runners on second and third with an error on catcher Trent Pratt and a double with two outs in the bottom of the inning, but Brandon pitched out of trouble.

In the fourth, Sean Gamble opened the inning with a line-drive double into the left field corner. Moran followed with an infield single on a slow roller to shortstop putting runners on the corners.

That brought Auburn's top hitter to the plate and Bobby Huddleston responded with a line-drive double into the right-center field gap that scored both runners. Pratt then put two runners into scoring position with a ground ball single into left field that allowed the Auburn hitter to go to second base when a throw to second base was misplayed. Then, things got really interesting.

Bobby Huddleston

Vines hit a high chopper to the pitcher, who cut down the lead runner at the plate. Vines reached first on a fielder's choice and landed at second after he and Pratt got out of trouble in a rundown situation.

With one out, Scott Schade hit a ground ball to the third baseman, who made a play on Pratt at the plate, however, the Auburn catcher was able to slide under the throw to give the Tigers a 3-0 lead. However, another rundown situation (scored 5-2-4-6) followed for the second out, but Auburn wasn't done yet.

A bloop single by Huddleston to center gave the Tigers a 4-0 lead and the Auburn designated hitter took second when center fielder Scott McClanahan mishandled the ball. Shortstop Chuck Jeroloman, the nine hitter, made the Tide pay with a screaming liner to left center to make the score 5-0. Leadoff hitter Jonathan Schuerholz then was hit by a pitch putting runners on first and second, but the Tide avoided further trouble when Gamble hit a fly ball to left.

Alabama responded immediately with runs in the bottom of the fourth. Catcher Jeremy Brown walked and trotted home when first baseman Brent Boyd hit an opposite field homer over the right field fence. That sent Renfroe to the mound for a talk with his pitcher.

After coaxing a pop up to shortstop, Brandon got into more trouble as Beau Hearod singled to right field and Allen Rice reached first on an error by Schuerholz on a hot shot to third base putting runners on first and second with one out. Schuerholz then got the second out unassisted when Grant Redding grounded into a fielder's choice for the second out. Facing leadoff hitter McClanahan, the Tiger sophomore avoided more trouble by ending the threat with a high pop fly to Schade at first base.

Auburn was back on the attack at its next at-bat in the top of the fifth. Moran led off the inning with a hard-hit grounder to third base base, which was misplayed by Rice for a two-base error. Huddleston moved him to third on a ground ball that barely got through the shortstop and third base hole. Huddleston advanced to second on a high very wild, wild pitch that sailed to the screen, but the rebound didn't give Moran a chance to score from third.

After a strikeout by Pratt, Vines hit a ground ball single through the middle to score Moran and make the score 6-2 and leave runners on the corners for Schade with one out. However, Vines was cut down at second base for the second out when he was caught stealing by a good throw from Jeremy Brown. Schade was then caught looking for strike three to end the threat.

Brandon helped himself in the sixth inning with a defensive gem. After a two-out single by Hearod, new third baseman Carlos Sosa tried to slip a bunt past the Auburn pitcher on the third base side of the mound. Despite slipping on the wet grass from heavy rain earlier in the day, the Tiger pitcher made an acrobatic, one-hop throw to first base to end the inning.

In the seventh inning, following a gruesome rendition of Take Me Out the Ballgame, the Tide got a leadoff infield single by number nine hitter Rant Redding. He moved to second on a wild pitch and scored on a two-run bomb to left center field by McClanahan to cut the Auburn lead to 6-4. Renfroe again made the stroll to the mound for a chat with Brandon. This time the Auburn coach was ready to make a change as freshman Steven Register, currently Auburn's No. 1 closer, got the call.

After getting the first hitter he faced, Register gave up a shot off the top of the fence in right field. Peter Stonard reached third as he was credited with a double and Vines was given an error for fumbling the ball before making a throw. Register then struck out Brown for the second out on a 3-2 pitch before hitting Boyd to put runners on the corners. A walk to right fielder Travis Garner loaded the bases for Hearod. The designated hitter tied the game with a seeing-eye ground ball into left between the shortstop and third baseman to drive home a pair of runs and leave runners on first and second.

Another hit batter ended Register's night as Renfroe called to the bullpen for Mike Mueller to pitch out of the bases loaded jam. Two pitches later, the junior right-hander ended the rally when Grant Redding hit a fly ball to right field.

The Tide started was pulled in the next inning. After a one-out walk to Schade, the 133rd pitch for Lance Cormier, lefty Taylor Tankersley got the call to face left-handed hitting Hulett, who hit a pop fly to the pitcher. Jeroloman then went down swinging for the third out.

In the Tide eighth, Adam Pavkovich drew a one-out walk from Mueller and that was followed by an opposite field double to left down the third base line to put two runners in scoring position for Brown. Renfroe brought the infielders into Little League depth for the first two pitches, both balls. After that, Mueller issued an intentional walk.

Boyd then gave the Tide a 7-6 lead with a sacrifice fly to left field for the second out, leaving runners on first and second for Garner. Auburn had a chance to get out of the inning without further damage, but an error by Schuerholz on a ground ball allowed Stonard to score.

In the ninth, Schuerholz popped out to right field near the line to start the inning. Gamble struck out swinging for the second out. Moran doubled to the deep right field corner on a full count to keep hope alive, however, Huddleston struck out swinging to end the game that featured a lot of no-shows on the chilly night despite being officially listed as a sellout of 6,118.

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