However, a three-hitter against LSU in the opening game of the SEC Baseball Tournament was not enough to keep Auburn out of the loser's bracket of the double elimination event as the Tigers fell 2-1 to LSU on Wednesday evening at the Hoover Met.
Colby Paxton A fourth inning base on balls to third baseman Wally Pontiff followed by a two-run homer that Sean Barker said he hit off the sweet spot of the bat was all the offense LSU needed with ace Lane Mestepey limiting Auburn to a single run on a complete game six-hitter on just three days of rest.
"I felt great out there," Mestepey said. "My arm wasn't bothering me at all." Neither were the Auburn hitters, who struggled to figure out the left-hander.
Paxton, who dropped to 8-5 for the season, did not allow another hit after the home run. Barker said that the Auburn right-hander had worked him to an 0-2 count with two nasty sliders. "I was looking for a fastball because I didn't think he would throw me three straight sliders," Barker said. "He made a mistake and got a fastball up and I hit it pretty good. I thought it would be at least a double in the gap and I thought it would have a chance to get out."
Paxton said he was trying to waste a pitch well out of the strike zone and said the home run pitch was "a mistake." That was one of the few he made.
Auburn coach Steve Renfroe called the pitcher's duel a great college baseball game that was well-played by both teams. "I wish we had more games like that during the year," he said.
Paxton pitched a one-hitter at Tennessee earlier this season, but has been up and down this season. Mestepey, who improved to 11-3, has been one of the league's most consistent pitchers. "Colby Paxton was great and Lane Mestepey was Lane Mestepey," Renfroe said.
Coby Paxton pitches for the Tigers.
LSU coach Smoke Levale was also impressed with the game and said he believed that nobody in the league could have outdueled Paxton on Wednesday other than his star pitcher.
Paxton said the key to his success was throwing three pitches for strikes and LSU's Pontiff agreed. "You couldn't really sit on any pitch because he had such good control with all three of his pitches."
The Tigers will play the loser of Wednesday night's South Carolina vs. Arkansas game at 1 p.m. in an elimination contest. "We aren't giving up," says catcher Trent Pratt, who scored the Tigers' only run. "Teams have won this tournament coming out of the loser's bracket."
Levale Speigner will get the call on the mound for the Tigers in Thursday's game.
Paxton looked to be in control until the fourth inning when LSU jumped ahead 2-0 on a long two-run homer to left center by cleanup hitter Sean Barker.
The Tigers had a chance to cut into the lead in the top of the sixth inning when Chuck Jeroloman led off the inning with a high chopper to second. He reached base on an error and got to second on a bunt by Jonathan Schuerholz that was mishandled by the first baseman. That allowed Schuerholz to reach first base.
Another bunt by Sean Gamble moved the runners to second and third base with one out. The call at first base was very close and the Tigers nearly had the bases loaded with nobody out.
Javon Moran then hit a soft ground ball to shortstop that looked like it would score Jeroloman, but he got a late break to the plate and was dead meat at home on a good throw by Aaron Hill. LSU's Levale said he started to "pull his hair out" when he saw Hill's throw to the plate, but said the head's up kind of play was a main reason LSU won the game despite getting just three hits.
Mestepey then got out of the jam by getting designated hitter Bobby Huddleston to ground out to third base.
In the seventh, the Tigers finally got on the scoreboard as Trent Pratt doubled to lead off the inning. He reached third on a 1-4-3 groundout and scored from there on a swinging bunt by Scott Schade. Right fielder Matt Grooms then hit into a 6-4-3 twin-killing to end the threat.
Auburn's last gasp was a two-out double in the ninth by Tug Hulett, but Mestepey got Schade to end the game and advance to the winner's bracket.
In the earlier opening round games, Florida took a 7-2 come-from-behind victory over Georgia while Alabama won a 10-run rule early stoppage victory by a 12-2 count over Mississippi State. In the late game an early 2-0 lead by South Carolina held up as the Gamecocks cruised to a 10-1 victory over Arkansas in the nightcap of day one.
Jovan Moran awaits a pitch form Lane Mestepey.
Tiger Ticket Extra: The game was a quick one with both pitchers in a groove. Mestepey threw just 97 pitches and Paxton threw 116. Renfroe said that Paxton was right at his pitch count limit and the Auburn coaches would have gone to the bullpen if he got into the 120s...The time of the game was 1:47...Paxton set a personal record with nine strikeouts. His old mark was six vs. Kentucky.