"It was a long day at the ballpark," Coach Tommy Slater said. "We didn't play very well tonight and I'm not happy about it and neither is the ballclub. We stayed around all day to play and it was an unacceptable performance tonight."
Following three very good weekend outings in a row, things didn't turn out well for junior Chris Dennis against rival Alabama in the rubber game of the series. Giving up six runs on five hits in four and two/thirds innings, Dennis never seemed comfortable on the mound following the long delay and that was evident in the early going.
Despite giving up a leadoff double to Emeel Salem in the first and two walks in the inning, Dennis escaped without giving up a run to the Crimson Tide. With Alabama starter Tommy Hunter controlling things on the mound through the first three innings the offense finally capitalized on Auburn mistakes to get on the board in the third. Back up once again, Salem turned on a 0-2 breaking ball and ripped it down the line for a triple. An infield single by Matt Downs pushed him across for the game's first run.
Chris Dennis never could get it going in Sunday's loss to Alabama.
Alabama would then get creative for their second run as a walk to Alex Avila put the Crimson Tide in business once again with runners on first and second. Catcher Kody Valverde then hit a slow grounder to Phillip Stringer at third base to start what appeared to be a double play, but the throw from Tyler Johnstone was just late putting runners on the corners with one out. It proved to be big as Alabama executed a double steal to score Downs as Josh Donaldson's throw to second caught Valverde stealing, but the run scored to make it 2-0 Alabama.
That's the way things would remain until the fifth as Auburn threatened for the only time of the night against Hunter. With one out Stringer singled to right field and advanced to second on a hit and run groundout by Bruce Edwards. A walk to Johnstone brought Luke Greinke to the plate with a chance to do some damage, but Hunter got him to ground out to Evan Bush at second to end the threat.
The defensive stand gave Alabama some life coming to the plate and the Crimson Tide again made Dennis and the Tigers pay for mistakes. Leading off Salem earned a walk from Dennis, his fifth free pass of the game, to once again be a thorn in Auburn's side. Following a sacrifice bunt to move Salem to second, Avila singled to center field to put runners on the corners with one out.
Still struggling with his control, Dennis hit Valverde to load the bases. After getting Bush on a pop to Donaldson things looked good for Dennis, but a first pitch fastball was blasted into the gap by Ryan Rhoden for a bases clearing double. That would be it for Dennis, but Alabama wasn't finished as Peter Wiggins' first pitch was laced into right field for a single to score Rhoden and make it 6-0 Alabama. The Crimson Tide would add three more runs before this game was done to earn the victory. Auburn did find some offense in the ninth as pinch hitter Ben Jones doubled off Alabama closer David Robertson to lead off the inning and later scored on an Edwards infield single to break up the shutout.
"It was a big hit for Rhoden," Slater said. "He drove that ball into right center and staked them out to a pretty good lead there. We had some opportunities to score and we didn't make it happen in the early stages of the game."
With the victory Alabama remains atop the SEC standings at 15-6 while a sweep for the Ole Miss Rebels over Tennessee keeps them in second in the West at 13-8. Counted out before the weekend, LSU defeated Arkansas in a big series in Baton Rouge to improve to 8-13 in league play while the Hogs fall to 11-10. Mississippi State remains a half-game ahead of Auburn in the West at 9-11 overall after losing two of three at South Carolina.
In the East the Gamecocks improved to 13-8 in league play and in a tie with Kentucky for the division lead after the Wildcats won a series over Vanderbilt. The Commodores currently stand at 11-10 in league play while Georgia's sweep of Florida keeps the Bulldogs in the hunt at 10-11. The Vols (7-13) and Gators (6-15) round out the pecking order in the East. If the SEC Tournament began today Alabama would be the top seed followed by South Carolina, Kentucky, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Georgia and Mississippi State.