Owls Bomb Tigers In Nightmare Game For AU Pitching

The Tigers fell 16-11 to Florida Atlantic and will face Alabama in the loser's bracket elimination game on Saturday.

Tuscaloosa, Ala.--Auburn's pitching struggled early and often as Florida Atlantic scored 10 runs in the first inning on the way to a 16-11 victory in Friday's NCAA Baseball Tournament Regional opener.

Gabe Somarriba had two hits and six runs batted in and L.J. Biernbaum had five hits, including two of his team's five home runs, as the Owls pounded Auburn pitching for 16 hits on the way to the victory.

The Tigers will play in an elimination game at 11 a.m. against tournament host Alabama, which was defeated 7-4 on Friday night by fourth-seed Southeast Missouri State.

For Auburn head coach Steve Renfroe this game had to be like having a nightmare as pitcher after pitcher for the Tigers failed to get the job done on a day when his offense put up winnable numbers. The Tigers had 14 hits and scored 10 runs in the first three innings on Friday, but the relief pitching of Tom MacLane was the difference in this game. Coming on in the bottom of the third, he pitched the final six innings of the contest and allowed just four hits and one run to earn his fourth win of the season.

The loss forces the Tigers into the loser's bracket where they will have to win four games in two days to earn a spot in next weekend's Super Regionals. Auburn's assignment is an extra tough one for a team that depleted its bullpen in a losing effort on day one.

"We have a job to do," Renfroe said. "You have to go back, re-group and play. It's not how many runs were scored--we lost. It's hard to take a loss in the first game. We have done it several times and come back to play in the finals and make a run at it. You really have to look at it that way...We have some young kids and I think they're going to want to stay around."

The day was a disaster for Auburn starting pitcher Levale Speigner. After walking the first two batters of the game on just nine pitches, the junior hung a 1-1 breaking ball to Mike Cox and the third baseman deposited it deep over the left field wall for a three-run home run to give the Owls the early lead and put the Tigers behind the eight ball.

Things didn't get any better for the junior as both L.J. Biernbaum and Rusty Brown singled to right field to put a cap on a short day by Speigner.

"I just didn't have it," said a disheartened Speigner following the shortest outing of his career.

Forced to make a move, Renfroe went to Andrew Skinner and that appeared to be a good move as he quickly got two strikes on Matt Pali, but trying to hit the inside corner, he nipped the hitter on the elbow to load the bases with still nobody out.

Finally the Tigers got the first out of the inning as Robert Orton popped to Scott Schade keeping the bases loaded. The Owls would extend the lead as catcher Robert Hutton singled to left to score two more runs for a 5-0 Florida Atlantic lead. A base-on-balls to number nine hitter Bobby Spano was the end of the day for Skinner and brought Cory Dueitt in for his shot.

Just like his counterparts, Dueitt was greeted rudely as lead-off man Gabe Somarriba drilled a fastball deep over the right field wall for a grand slam and a 9-0 Owl lead. Jeff Fiorentino then doubled and later scored on an infield single by Biernbaum that capped a nightmarish inning for the Tigers. When the dust settled Florida Atlantic led 10-0 and Auburn had yet to bat.

The Tigers didn't quit as Jonathan Schuerholz led off the bottom half with a single to left field and, after fly out by Sean Gamble, Javon Moran singled to left to put runners on first and second with just one out.

Designated hitter Bobby Huddleston cleared the bases quickly as he drilled a pitch deep to left for a long home run that made it 10-3 Owls. And Auburn was just getting started.

Auburn players come out of the dugout to congratulate Bobby Huddleston on his first inning home run.

Following a scoreless second by Florida Atlantic, Matt Grooms got the Tigers going by reaching on an error with one out. Shortstop Chuck Jeroloman was up next and he singled up the middle to put runners on first and second with one out. Following a Schuerholz hit-by-pitch it was time for the city of Montgomery to shine again. With Huddleston having a three-run home run on the day it was only fitting that Gamble one-up his counterpart. Getting a fastball on the inner-half of the plate, he hit a liner over the right field wall for his first career grand slam to cut the lead to just three after two innings of play.

Left fielder Sean Gamble had a grand slam and five runs batted in for Auburn in Friday's loss to Florida Atlantic.

Once again the Owls were held scoreless setting the stage for the Tigers to pull even. Schade started things off with a single to right field and Grooms followed with a long double to center field that gave the Tigers two runners in scoring position with nobody out. One out later Schuerholz hit a ground ball to Cox at third and Schade was caught in between third base and home plate. Rushing his throw, Cox sailed it off the backstop allowing Schade to score and moving Grooms to third. Now trailing 10-8 Auburn still had work to do.

Gamble did his job with the next at-bat as he lifted a fly ball deep to center field that easily scored Grooms from third. Moran finished the scoring and tied the game as he pulled a single just inside the third base bag that scored Schuerholz. Once trailing 10-0 the Tigers had fought back to tie the game in just three innings of work. Now it was up to the pitching to keep them in the game.

Unfortunately that just wasn't in the cards for Auburn on Friday as a combination of pitchers, including Arnold Hughey, Ken Clayton and Mike Mueller, couldn't keep the Owls at bay as they scored two in the fourth on back-to-back home runs by Biernbaum and Brown. Biernbaum struck again in the sixth inning as he hit a solo home run to right field that made it 13-10 Florida Atlantic. He wasn't finished as his RBI single to right field in the seventh capped a three-run outburst for the Owls as they pushed the lead back to six with just nine outs remaining for the Tigers.

The Tigers would only be able to scratch out one more run against the Owls as they fell to the loser's bracket with the 16-11 final Friday at Sewell-Thomas Stadium.

"The big number would have been the seventh inning," Renfroe said. "Arnie really was going to start the fifth and he could get to the eighth actually. But he had to go in a little early. The two home runs right after we tied it, it looked like it took a little bit out of us. It got them going again and they thumped us. They hit everything we threw over."

Moran led the way for the Tigers with a career-high five hits. He also scored two runs. Gamble carried his load at the plate as well driving in five runs on the day. Huddelston added two hits and three RBI to the Tigers' effort. Scott Schade had two hits and scored a run and Schuerholz crossed the plate three times in the losing effort Friday.

Auburn must now fight out of the loser's bracket as they take on first round loser Alabama at 11 a.m. on Saturday. Should the Tigers win they would have to play later on Saturday against the loser of Florida Atlantic vs. Southeast Missouri State game. The Tigers will send sophomore Colby Paxton to the mound Saturday morning. On the season he is 8-5 with a 4.90 earned run average.

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