Auburn starter Colby Paxton continued a disturbing performance by Tiger starters of not making it deep into games as he pitched just two and one/third innings before being pulled. Taking the loss, Paxton closed out the season with a record of 8-6 while Cormier improved to 11-3.
"Again we didn't get out of the blocks and Lance Cormier has just done that many, many times," Auburn coach Steve Renfroe said following the season-ending loss. "He's one of my favorite guys to watch compete...he's just one of those warriors...it's hard any time you end the season, it's tough. We made a valiant run at it and we came up short. I'm proud of my players. The thing that's worse about this is you have to say goodbye to a lot of them."
Seniors Trent Pratt, Sean Jones, John Tyler and Kyle Hudlow closed out their Auburn careers on Saturday in perhaps the worst way possible for a Tiger player, with a loss to Alabama. Despite the memories and thoughts of his college career being over, Pratt said following the game that he could only think about what might have been in Tuscaloosa.
Trailing 6-3 heading to the top of the ninth inning, Auburn was looking for some of the late-season magic that had given the team wins over Vanderbilt, Georgia and most notably Arkansas. That appeared to be on the horizon as Scott Schade worked the count on Alabama reliever Taylor Tankersley before earning a one-out walk. Freshman Matt Grooms, who was perhaps Auburn's most consistent performer of the weekend in left field, then singled up the middle to bring the tying run to the plate in the person of Jonathan Schuerholz.
Showing the toughness that has become his trademark, Schuerholz fought off one two-strike pitch into the stands before dropping one just in front of Alabama right fielder Travis Garner to load the bases with only one out. That would be as close as the Tigers would come as pinch-hitter Kyle Baum struck out swinging to bring Sean Gamble to the plate with the chance to be the hero. Fighting off five-straight pitches to open the at-bat, Gamble took ball one just off the outside corner before watching a nasty breaking ball for strike three to end the game and Auburn's season.
Things could have gotten off to a better start for the Tigers as Paxton struggled to get the ball down in the strike zone early and the Crimson Tide hitters made him pay. In the first inning, Peter Stonard tripled to center field with one out and a Jeremy Brown infield single plated him just moments later for the early 1-0 Alabama lead.
The Tide didn't stop there as Brent Boyd led off the bottom of the second with a single to left field after Paxton fell behind 3-0 in the count. Chad White then singled up the middle to put runners on first and second with nobody out.
Preparing to sacrifice the runners over, Alabama sent Zac Welch to the plate for the bunt only to see him fall behind in the count. That gave him the chance to swing away and swing he did, drilling a double into the right-center field gap that Javon Moran finally corralled against the wall, but not before both runners would score. Welch would be cut down at third base on a perfect relay throw by Tug Hulett to Schuerholz, but the damage was already done.
Leading 3-0, Alabama went back to work in the third hoping to put this one out of reach with Cormier on the mound. Travis Garner led things off by working a base-on-balls from Paxton and then stole second with Stonard at the plate. After moving to third on a ground ball to Schade at first, Garner would score on Brown's second RBI single of the day to make it 4-0 Alabama.
Following a Scott McClanahan bunt single, Brent Boyd doubled to the gap in left-center field to score Brown from second and after just three innings of play the Tigers trailed 5-0.
"Today I thought my breaking stuff wasn't sharp," Paxton said. "They are a good hitting team and if you're not getting your breaking stuff over they will hit the ball. I thought I didn't locate as well either, but like I said, they are a good hitting team and I paid for it."
Perhaps the early bright spot for the Tigers was the pitching of Levale Speigner, who came on in relief of Paxton in the third. Stranding runners on second and third with just one out when he entered, the junior came back from a disastrous performance on Friday to keep the Tigers within striking distance in the middle innings.
Gathering momentum from Speigner's performance, the Tigers finally got to Cormier in the fifth. Pratt led off the inning with a single to left field just out of the reach of Alabama third baseman Allen Rice. Then Hulett, the only Auburn player without a hit on Friday, drilled a double deep into the gap in right field to score Pratt all the way from first and leave the Tigers in good shape to get more off the big right-hander.
However, that didn't happen. Like they've done all season, Auburn stranded Hulett at second thanks to a couple of strikeouts. With the lead back down to four the Tigers were hoping to keep clawing their way back into the game.
That almost came to fruition in the top of the seventh. Once again trailing by five runs, the Tigers finally got to Cormier. Bobby Huddleston led off the inning by pounding the first pitch he saw deep into right-center for a double. Pratt following with a single to left to put runners on first and third with nobody out. Following a Hulett strikeout, Schade reached after being hit by a pitch to load the bases.
With the sacks full, Grooms once again came through, this time flipping one to left field for a single that scored two runs, making it 6-3 Alabama with just one out. Following a fielder's choice from Schuerholz that left runners on first and third, Jeroloman worked a walk from Cormier, ending his day on the mound.
Alabama coach Jim Wells called on Tankersley to get the job done and he helped himself along the way. With Gamble at the plate, Tankersley coaxed the freshman into hitting a slow liner up the middle. Just getting a glove on the ball, he deflected it to a running Peter Stonard, who reached back and just touched second base on his way by for the force out to end the inning.
"I know it caught the end of the bat," Gamble said. "I thought it would get through and then I saw him (Tankersley) tip it with his glove. Then Stonard made a great play. You just have to tip your hat to them on that one."
Although the Tigers had a chance late, the play effectively took the sails out of the Tiger team as they once again came up just short in Tuscaloosa yet again.
Grooms had a solid day for the Tigers with two singles and two runs batted in. Pratt had two hits of his own and scored a pair of the Tigers three runs. Huddleston scored the only other Auburn run after he doubled to lead off the seventh while Hulett drove in the first Tiger run with a double of his own. The Tigers closed out the season with four straight post season losses and five overall to finish with a record of 34 wins and 26 losses. Albama improved its record to 49-14.