Auburn, Ala.--The story was the same for the Auburn baseball Tigers once again as a lack of offensive production was the culprit in a 7-1 loss to Birmingham-Southern Sunday. The loss drops the Tigers to 9-10 overall and is the fourth series loss in six weekend series this season.
Auburn's record is the worst since the 1993 season when the Tigers started 7-10 to open the season. Included in that were losses to Tampa, West Florida and Northern Illinois. That season the Tigers rebounded to finish 40-23 overall and advanced to the NCAA Tournament.
The numbers are easy to analyze from Sunday's game as the Tigers had just four base hits and left 11 runners on base in the loss. For the series Auburn left 25 runners on base and scored just six runs. In its last six games the Tigers have scored just 12 total runs and Coach Tommy Slater said Sunday was a microcosm of what his team has done the last two weeks.
"The guy (Blake Martin) has a great arm, we knew that," Slater said. "We also knew he was going to be erratic and up in the zone. We did a nice job of getting some baserunners on and taking our walks, but sometimes when everybody is trying so hard to get that big hit unfortunately they expand their zones. We chased some pitches up and we've got to be better than that, we've got to be more disciplined that that. The effort is good, but we've got to be smarter. You've got guys up there trying so hard and they chase elevated pitches. You can't force things, no matter what sport you're playing. You've just got to let things occur. When you're trying to force things it doesn't go well."
Sunday's loss spoiled a solid outing by true freshman Evan Crawford. After giving up three early runs he shut down the Panthers. In his third loss this season the Prattville native allowed just three runs on five hits in six innings while striking out eight BCS hitters.
In the first the Panthers wasted little time in getting to Crawford as they scored three runs to put the Tigers in an early hole. Leading off Mark Goforth received a walk from Crawford and was balked to second to put a runner into scoring position. Following a strikeout Birmingham-Southern got down to business as Allen Aubin singled to score Goforth for the early lead. Blake Burton then doubled to score Aubin and make it 2-0 Panthers. One out later the damage would be done as a single by Brint Hardy scored Burton for the three-run BSC lead after one half-inning of play.
The Tigers had the first of three great chances to score early off Birmingham-Southern starter Blake Martin when he walked both Tyler Johnstone and Russell Dixon to lead off the bottom of the first for the Tigers. He managed to get out of the early jam unscathed by getting the next three hitters and faced even a tougher situation in the second as the Tigers loaded the bases with nobody out only to suffer the same fate the second time around.
Walks to Derek Sain and Jonathan Rasberry started things for the Tigers and a Justin Bristow bunt that pulled Aubin off third base loaded the bases with nobody out for freshman Ben Jones. One of the hitting stars on Saturday with two hits, Jones hit a laser to third that Aubin fielded. Throwing home, he got the leader runner and a throw to first completed the double play. A Johnstone fly out put an end to the Auburn rally.
Auburn would again get first and second with nobody out and fail to score before the Tigers finally got on the board in the fifth. A Johnstone walk started things and it was followed by a single off the bat of Russell Dixon. Following a pop-up by Andy Bennett, Jeff Boutwell singled up the middle to score Johnstone. That would be it though on this day as the Tigers struggled to get anything going offensively against the Panthers.
Boutwell had one of Auburn's four hits and the only RBI of the day.
Birmingham-Southern got plenty of insurance with two runs in both the seventh and ninth innings to build a comfortable 7-1 advantage. The last two runs came on a two-run shot by Billak off reliever Peter Wiggins in left field. The blast put the final nail in Auburn's coffin as the Tigers dropped a series to the Panthers in the first time ever to play a three-game series against an in-state school other than Alabama. Slater said that right now is a tough time for his team and all they can do is continue to work.
"It's day by day," Slater said. "I don't know if you could say there is a low point or a high point or anything like that. I think with this team we've got to take each day as a new challenge. They've shown up and gone through pre-game. They've worked hard. I have no problems whatsoever about the way our kids are going about their business. We're 19 games in and we're 9-10. That's not good. I'm not happy about it and neither are the kids on the team. All we can do is keep working and try and make it better."
The Tigers return to action Tuesday at 7 p.m. when Appalachian State comes to Auburn for a single game. Next weekend Auburn opens SEC play with South Carolina at Plainsman Park. Game times are 7 p.m., 4 p.m. and 1 p.m. for the series.