Tough Luck Tigers Drop Opener To Cats

Auburn's offense pounded Kentucky pitching for 16 hits, but the Tigers came in just short in the upset bid.

Auburn, Ala.--The bad breaks just keep coming for the Auburn Tigers as they fell 8-7 to Kentucky Friday night at Plainsman Park in a game in which the Tigers had 16 hits, but couldn't come up with the big play when it was needed the most. The loss drops Auburn to 12-17 overall, 1-6 in SEC play, while Kentucky improves to 22-5 and 5-2 in conference action.

The game can be summarized in one play and it has come to symbolize the entire Auburn season to this point. So close to getting over the hump, the Tigers again couldn't make the play that turned the momentum. This time in came in the bottom of the ninth inning and the Tigers trailing by one.

With one out in the ninth, Justin Bristow singled to bring center fielder Luke Greinke to the plate. Already with two hits and a sacrifice bunt on the day, Greinke put down a perfect bunt that he legged out for a single. The play moved pinch runner Phillip Stringer into scoring position with just one out for leadoff man Tyler Johnstone. Coming through in the clutch, Johnstone singled to center where Kentucky's Shaun Lehmann was waiting for the ball on one hop. Coming up throwing, Lehmann gunned out Stringer at the plate for the second out of the inning. Coach Tommy Slater said that if Auburn had to do it all again they wouldn't change things and unfortunately it didn't work out Friday night.

"I think the initial read, the outfield was playing really deep," Slater said. "As deep as their outfield was playing you've got to take a shot to score there. I would rather make an error of aggression than passivity."

Things weren't done just yet though as Russell Dixon stepped to the plate against sidearm pitcher Brock Baber. Getting a pitch to drive, Dixon drilled a fly ball deep into center field directly over Lehmann's head. Racing to the warning track, Lehmann caught the ball before crashing into the center field wall. The play preserved the win and gave the Tigers another hard luck loss.

"It hurts," Slater said. "Absolutely it hurts. We're all disappointed to lose a game. You go into the weekend expecting to win every game. Our kids played their guts out and competed their butts off. They came up short against a good Kentucky team."

In what has become a rarity for the Tigers, they got off to a quick start on Friday to take the early lead. Leading off the inning second baseman Johnstone singled to get things going for Auburn. After a Dixon ground ball moved him to second Johnstone scored on a double by third baseman Mike Bianucci into left field. The hit gave Butts some early cushion, but Kentucky would remove that in the top of the third.

With two outs and nobody on in the top of the third Kentucky got what appeared to be a harmless single by left fielder Collin Cowgill, but it only set the table for big Michael Bertram. The physically imposing third baseman got a pitch to hit and drove it into the gap for a double. Cowgill scored on the play to tie the game at one. The lead would be extended in the next inning as second baseman John Shelby hit his seventh home run of the season to give Kentucky a 2-1 advantage.

Auburn answered back with a vengeance in the bottom of the inning with a blast from catcher Josh Donaldson the big blow for the Tigers. Leading off, designated hitter Ryan Stanley singled for his third hit in two games since moving into the position. Hitting the ball squarely, shortstop Justin Bristow followed with a sharp single off Tennyson to put the Tigers in business.

In his second consecutive game in center field, Greinke then executed a sacrifice bunt to perfection that Tennyson fielded and threw away at first. The error allowed Stanley to score and Bristow to advance all the way to third with still nobody out. A walk to Johnstone loaded the bases for Dixon, but he would eventually strike out to bring Bianucci to the plate. A sacrifice fly by Bianucci pushed across Auburn's second run of the inning to make it 3-2 Tigers and bring Donaldson to the plate.

Greinke made the most of a start in center field Friday night. He's expected to be back in the bullpen next weekend.

One of Auburn's top power guys, Donaldson was looking for a pitch to drive when he stepped to the plate. Loading up, the sophomore lifted a high drive over the monster in left field for a three-run home run. With the 6-2 advantage heading to the fifth Auburn looked to be in good shape, but the strong Wildcats had something to say about that.

In the fifth a leadoff triple began the comeback for Kentucky as a ground ball later scored the run to cut the lead to three. Butts was looking to continue a very good outing as he went out to start the sixth inning, but once again it was Shelby that proved to be his undoing. Leading off the inning, Coughlin singled sharply to right field just under the glove of Johnstone. That brought Shelby to the plate. Getting ahead quickly 0-2 on two very good fastballs, Butts continued to pound the ball in to Shelby. That proved to be a fatal mistake as Shelby connected on a low fastball and drove it off the scoreboard in left-center for his second home run of the season. The blast cut Auburn's lead to just one heading to the bottom of the sixth after reliever Andy Masten came on to finish out the inning.

With reliever Matt Robinson on and shutting down the Tigers, Kentucky was back for more in the seventh. Getting through the first batter with no problem, Masten wasn't as fortunate with the second hitter as catcher Sean Coughlin drilled a solo shot off the scoreboard to tie the game at six and give the Wildcats all the momentum. They made it pay off later in the inning as a two-out bloop double by Shelby scored Ryan Strieby to put Kentucky up 7-6.

Auburn refused to lay down and came to the plate in the bottom of the eighth looking to tie the game or take the lead. They would accomplish the first, but it wouldn't be easy. Leading off, Johnstone singled and Dixon followed with a single as well to put runners on first and second with nobody out. Trying to bunt the runners over, Bianucci hit the ball by the pitcher and Shelby fielded and threw to third for the first out of the inning.

Up once again in a key situation, Donaldson hit a slow roller that Shelby couldn't field cleanly at second. The error allowed everyone to be safe and load the bases with Bennett coming to the plate. Bennett followed suit with a slow ground ball that scored Dixon to tie the game at seven. A two-out single by Coughlin in the top of the ninth to score Cowgill proved to be the game winner for Kentucky as they won game one Friday night.

Auburn was led at the plate by a trio of Tigers who had three hits each in Johnstone, Dixon and Greinke. Coming through with two hits were freshmen Bianucci and Bristow. For Kentucky Shelby led the way with four hits and four RBI while Coughlin and Cowgill added three hits each.

The Tigers and Wildcats will face off in game two on Saturday at 4 p.m. with freshman Evan Crawford getting the start for Auburn.

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