Sloppy Tigers Pay For The Error of Their Ways

After five innings Saturday at Plainsman Park, things were looking up for Auburn's baseball team.

Freshman Evan Crawford, who has emerged as Auburn's ace in Southeastern Conference play, was out of the game, but it scarcely seemed to matter. Jeff Boutwell's grand slam had keyed a seven-run fourth as the Tigers wiped out a 6-1 Mississippi State lead. Another run in the fifth had made it 9-6.

But a meltdown was coming. Errors, walks and finally Mississippi State's power proved too much. The Bulldogs scored eight in the eighth, getting a grand slam of their own from Brian LaNinfa off reliever Johnny Thompson, and went on to win 17-10 to even the three-game series at a game apiece,

Junior Chris Dennis will get the call on the mound Sunday as the Tigers, who won 9-4 Friday night, try to win their second SEC series of the season.

Auburn fell to 17-21 overall and 5-9 in the SEC. No. 8 Mississippi State improved to 26-8 and 7-6.

After playing perhaps their crispest game of the SEC season Friday night, the Tigers were anything but crisp Saturday. Six pitchers issued nine walks and hit two batters. Fielders committed six errors.

It was far too much to overcome, Auburn coach Tom Slater said.

"Way too many walks," Slater said. "Way too many errors. When you are walking people and you are making errors, you're not going to win. It's a very low level of baseball when you are doing that. It doesn't matter how productive you are at the plate if you give away free baserunners."

After Crawford cruised through a 1-2-3 first and Auburn got a run when Mississippi State starter Josh Johnson walked Luke Greinke with the bases loaded, the trouble began.

The Mississippi State second began with third baseman Josh Donaldson booting Mitch Moreland's ground ball. With the bases loaded and one out, Crawford got Wyn Diggs to hit a one-hopper back to the mound for what seemed a sure inning-ending double play. Crawford threw home to force out Moreland, but catcher Jonathan Rasberry's throw sailed far over the head of first baseman Andy Bennett and two runs scored. Diggs scored on a wild pitch.

Mississippi State got another run in the third and two in the fourth before Auburn rallied.

Russell Dixon

With two out and nobody on, Russell Dixon cracked a double. Justin Bristow struck out but reached first on a wild pitch. Josh Stapleton, batting for Rasberry, walked and Tyler Johnstone was hit by a pitch. Boutwell launched a high drive over the 385 sign in left field for his first career grand slam to tie the game. Consecutive singles by Mike Bianucci and Donaldson and a two-run Bennett double scored two more runs.

Tyler Johnstone

Andy Masden took over on the mound to start the fifth and retired the Bulldogs in order. Stapleton doubled and scored on a Johnstone single in the fifth to make it 9-6.

Mississippi State scored three runs in the fifth on two walks, a hit batter and two hits to tie the game, chasing Masden.

Clarence Nicely, who took over for Masden in the sixth, started the eighth with a hit batter and a walk and was replaced by Thompson. After Edward Easley sacrificed, Thomas Berkery was intentionally walked. Thompson walked Mitch Moreland to send home the go-ahead run, then LaNinfa hit his grand slam far over the right field fence. The Bulldogs led 13-9. One out later, Jeff Butts cracked a solo homer. When the inning finally ended, they had scored eight funs on four hits, three walks, a hit batter and two errors.

Auburn got a meaningless run in the ninth thanks to three pinch hitters. Bruce Edwards singled, Philip Stringer walked and Ryan Jenkins got his first college base hit and first RBI.

Slater said he had not lost confidence in either Crawford or Thompson, who had not given up a home run before Saturday.

"Evan didn't give up a whole lot of hard contact," Slater said. "We didn't really do a good job of helping him out. The bottom line is walks and errors. Evan has been solid for us all year. I'm not down on Evan Crawford or Johnny Thompson at all. Both of them had a scuffle tonight for the first time in a long, long time."

Nicely took the loss for Auburn, giving up two runs in 1 2/3 innings, and fell to 1-1. Aaron Weatherford got the win for Mississippi State, giving up nine hits and two runs in 5 1/3 innings, and improved to 4-0.

Bianucci had three of Auburn's 14 hits. Johnstone, Donaldson and Russell Dixon had two hits apiece. LaNinfa was 4-for-5 and drove home five runs to lead Mississippi State. Jeffrey Rea had three of the Bulldogs' 14 hits. Ironically, Berkery went 0-for-3 and had his hitting streak snapped at 30 games. It was the fifth longest hitting streak in SEC history.

Despite Saturday's struggle, the Tigers will go for the series win on Sunday.

"We have a chance to win a series because of the work we did Friday night," Slater said. "I think our kids will come out ready to go. We need to pitch well. Let's face it, at every level of baseball pitching is the name of what you do. We need Chris to come out and be good. The guys that have to throw out of the bullpen need to be ready to go."

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