Missed Opportunities Cost Tigers

Auburn pounded out nine runs on 16 hits but fell just short on a rainy night at Plainsman Park.

Auburn, Ala.--Missed opportunities haunted the Tigers on Saturday night as they squandered opportunities in both the eighth and ninth innings in a 10-9 loss to the Georgia Bulldogs.

The Tigers fall to 31-20 overall, 13-13 in conference play, while the Bulldogs improve to 30-20, 15-11. Mickey Westphal got the win for Georgia, throwing five and one/third innings and allowing six runs on nine hits. Auburn starter Levale Speigner got tagged for the loss to drop his record to 7-6 on the season.

"They beat us," Auburn coach Steve Renfroe said following a disappointing loss to Georgia that saw the Tigers climb out of an early five-run hole. "We had chances and didn't convert."

Those began in the eighth with Auburn trailing by two runs as center fielder Javon Moran doubled to left to start the inning. Bobby Huddleston was up next and the big guy just missed tying the game with a drive to deep right field, but did advance Moran to third with just one out.

The senior came through next as Trent Pratt singled through the left side to score Moran and keep the rally going. That brought to the plate Tug Hulett. With hits in seven of his last nine at-bats, the freshman was looking for something to drive. He got just that and drilled it back up the middle. The only problem was Georgia reliever Bill Sharpton just happened to have his glove by his side and the ball stuck in the webbing. Tossing the ball to first for the easy double play, the Bulldogs averted disaster and still had the lead going to the ninth.

Coming on in the seventh inning, freshman reliever Arnold Hughey had kept the Bulldogs at bay and that was no different in the ninth. After escaping a bases-loaded situation thanks to key plays by Scott Schade and Doug Vines, it was Auburn's turn in the bottom half to see if they could continue their role as the cardiac kids.

Schade did his part as he singled through the left side to open the inning. Replacing Schade with the speedy John Tyler at first, Renfroe decided to play for the one run in hopes of winning in extra innings because of the depleted Georgia bullpen. Vines was up next and on the first pitch he bunted the ball in the air right back to Sharpton for the first out.

Instead of hitting Chuck Jeroloman, Renfroe opted for the power of left-hander Matt Grooms, who has been out for nearly five weeks since breaking a bone in his hand. Grooms was sent up in a tough situation.

Showing veteran poise, the youngster worked the count full before earning a walk to put runners on first and second with just one out bringing Jonathan Schuerholz up to bat. Hoping to drive home the tying run, Schuerholz pulled an inside pitch right to Georgia third baseman Lee Mitchell. Stepping on the bag and throwing across the diamond, he closed the game by turning the 5-3 double play.

The loss drops Auburn's lead in the SEC race to just one game over Arkansas while Mississippi State trails by a game and a half. The Tigers face the Razorbacks on the road next weekend to close the season.

Georgia got to Speigner early with a big first inning. Kris Edge led things off with a single to left field on the first pitch of the game. Things got worse quickly as he stole second and on the pitch Chaz Lytle singled to left to move him all the way to third base with nobody out.

Lytle then repeated the feat by stealing second base as well to put two men in scoring position. After an Adam Swann groundout scored Edge, Matt Cavender doubled to right center field to score Lytle, giving the Bulldogs the 2-0 lead. Justin McClain then added a double of his own to score Cavender and just like that Auburn trailed by three runs after just one-half inning of play.

Georgia added a single run in the second inning as a Lytle double scored catcher Clint Sammons from first base to make it 4-0. The Bulldogs were at it again in the third as third baseman Lee Mitchell homered over the green monster in left field for a 5-0 Georgia lead. However, Auburn would make a run in the fourth. After holding the Bulldogs scoreless in the top half of the inning, the Tigers used a long ball of their own to get a rally started.

Huddleston took the first pitch he saw in the inning deep over the center field wall for his eighth home run, putting Auburn on the board. Pratt followed with a single to right field and, after a Hulett walk, Schade continued his RBI barrage when he doubled down the left field line to score both Pratt and Hulett to make it 5-3.

Georgia would answer back and loudly in the top of the fifth and Cavender was once again in the middle of things. With one out he jumped on a 2-0 pitch from Speigner and drove it off the scoreboard in left center for a solo home run and a 6-3 lead.

The Bulldogs were far from finished as Mitchell had an infield single setting the stage for Marshall Szabo. Not waiting to see a pitch, he drilled one deep over the right field wall for a home run that signaled the end of Speigner's day in favor of sophomore Andrew Skinner. Speigner allowed 12 hits and eight runs in just four and one/third innings.

Auburn got one back in the bottom half of the inning. Sean Gamble led off the inning with an infield single. One out later, Huddleston doubled down the left field line to easily score Gamble from first to make it 8-4 Georgia. Then the rains came and halted play for one hour and 19 minutes, giving both teams a chance to regroup for the late innings. Auburn used the down time well, scoring three runs to pull within one run but a crucial call kept the game from being tied heading to the seventh.

After a Schade lead-off single, a Vines groundout and a Jeroloman walk, Westphal was pulled in favor of Sharpton. All the reliever proceeded to do was walk Schuerholz, loading the bases with one out. Sean Gamble then continued his hard-luck day by striking out looking for the second out of the inning. That brought Moran to the plate. The speedy sophomore hit a slow roller in the infield that Georgia couldn't make a play on, scoring Schade with the first run of the inning.

Huddleston was up next and the junior earned a walk to force home another run, making it 8-6. Then the play of the night took place. Taking the outside pitch to right field, Pratt singled through the infield scoring Schuerholz and bringing home Moran from third. Fielding the ball cleanly, Adam Swann came up gunning and threw a strike to the plate. The only problem was his catcher didn't appear to get the tag down in time to cut down Moran, but umpire Charles McElroy didn't see it that way, calling Moran out to end the inning and bringing Renfroe to the plate to argue the call. The Tigers would threaten but fall short to even the series.

The Tigers and Bulldogs close out the series on Mother's Day Sunday with a 1:30 p.m. start at Plainsman Park. Sophomore Eric Brandon takes the hill for Auburn while Georgia's pitcher is listed as TBA. Brandon enters the game with a record of 3-2 and an ERA of 5.03.

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