Athens, Ga.--What has been Auburn's strength to this point in the season was its achille's heel on Friday night in the SEC opener as the bullpen couldn't hold a two-run lead in the sixth inning as Georgia scored single runs in the sixth and seventh innings to tie the game and then scored the winning run on a bases loaded walk in the bottom of the ninth to take the series opener 4-3 at Foley Field.
Auburn falls to 18-4 on the season while Georgia improves to 6-11 on the year. Coach Tommy Slater says it was a frustrating loss because it was a game the Tigers had in their grasp only to see it slip away late.
"It's a disappointing loss," Slater says. "I thought we played hard and I thought we swung the bats fairly well. For the most part we played well. It's just a disappointing loss."
The Tigers cruised through the first five innings behind the pitching of starter Bryan Woodall. Continuing his solid work on the mound, the sophomore gave Auburn five solid innings of work as he left the game in the sixth inning with two runners on and the Tigers up 3-1. For the game he gave up just three hits and two earned runs and Slater says he pitched well enough to win. It was Auburn's bullpen that failed to get the job done as in four innings they allowed three hits, two earned runs and walked seven to cost the Tigers a shot at victory.
Auburn took the early lead on Friday night as a two-out rally got the Tigers started in the third against Georgia starter Nathan Moreau. An Eric Skinner single started a rally for Auburn as Bruce Edwards, Luke Greinke and Josh Donaldson all followed with singles to push two runs across and spot Woodall the early advantage.
The Bulldogs cut into the lead in the bottom of the inning as Luke Stewart singled to lead off the frame with a bloop that fell in just in front of Greinke in left field. A diving stop by Skinner at short wasn't enough to cut down the runner at second on the next play as Travis Parrott was safe at first and the Bulldogs had runners on first and second with nobody out. Following a sacrifice bunt it was Jonathan Wyatt to the rescue as his ground ball to Robert Brooks at second scored Georgia's first run.
It was answer time for Auburn in the top of the fourth Andy Bennett reached as he was hit by a pitch and Ross Smith followed with a single to center field. Joseph Sanders couldn't get the job done though as his bunt was fielded in time to cut down Bennett at third for the first out. A Phillip Stringer bunt single loaded the bases for Skinner and his fly ball in foul territory was deep enough to score Smith from third to take the lead 3-1 heading to the bottom of the fourth.
"We had a nice approach," Slater says. "The first time through it was pretty evident was his gameplan was. The second time through we started to get to him with a lot of hard line drives and hard ground balls. We had good strokes on the ball most of the night."
That lead would stand until the sixth when Woodall ran into trouble. Leading off, Wyatt worked a walk from Woodall to get Georgia going. Ryan Peisel followed with a single to center field that would signal the end of Woodall's day and bring on Brett Butts. Another sacrifice bunt by Georgia moved the runners up and it was a big play as Matt Olson's bloop single to center field scored Wyatt to cut the lead to one. On the play Auburn's Brooks made a diving effort on the ball and appeared to come up with the play but the umpire ruled it was not a catch. Butts would escape with no more damage though as the Tigers' lead was down to one.
Again the leadoff walk came back to haunt the Tigers to start the seventh inning as Stewart worked the walk from Butts and advanced to second on a single by Parrott that fell just in front of Greinke in left field. A ground ball advanced Stewart to third base before a Wyatt fly ball to Edwards in center field pushed him across with the tying run. Auburn's Justin Bristow came on to finish the inning but would not survive the eighth as yet another leadoff walk gave Georgia life. A single by Lewis followed before Bristow finally got the first out of the inning on a hard line drive to Greinke in left. Auburn had seen enough though as Shuman came on to squelch the Georgia rally and set the stage for the Georgia game-winner in the ninth.
Before that would happen though, Auburn would have the first shot to take the lead against Georgia All-American closer Joshua Fields. With two outs and nobody on, Edwards singled to center field and was followed by a walk to Greinke to bring Josh Donaldson to the plate. The hero of Wednesday night's game when his two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth won the game for the Tigers, Donaldson couldn't pull it off this time as he popped up to end the inning and the Auburn threat.
It was déjà vu time for the Tigers in the bottom of the ninth as for the fourth-straight inning Georgia's leadoff man reached on a walk and this time it would cost Auburn the victory. With pinch runner Miles Starr at first base, the Bulldogs took a gamble and decided to test Donaldson's arm. The move paid off for Georgia as Starr was ruled safe at second much to the dismay of Slater, who argued the call for several minutes. Wyatt was then walked to bring Peisel to the plate before a wild pitch moved the runners over. A walk to Gordon Beckham then loaded the bases for Olson but unlike so many times before this season, Shuman didn't get the job done as he walked Olson to score Starr with the game winning run.
"Fields is really good," Slater says. "He blew us away there for an inning or so. Late in the ninth we put together a couple of decent at-bats with Edwards and Greinke. We got our guy at the plate. Donny battled his butt off. What can you say? I thought our kids played hard. It's just a disappointing loss."
Playing without second-leading hitter Mike Bianucci, who was left back in Auburn with the flu, Auburn was led at the plate by Edwards, Donaldson and Bennett with three hits each.
Game two of the series will begin at 1 p.m. CDT time as Paul Burnside gets the call for the Tigers.