Auburn, Ala.--In a season that started out with so much hope, things have quickly turned to despair for the Auburn Tigers as a Cole Figueroa single in the top of the 10th inning off reliever Chris Dennis gave the Florida Gators an 8-7 victory over the Tigers Friday night at Plainsman Park. It was the third one-run loss for the Tigers in four SEC games to start the year as the Tigers drop to 18-7 overall and 0-4 in league play. The victory improves Florida to 12-12, 2-2 in SEC action.
All season long, Auburn's pitching staff had been the strong point of the Tiger team, carrying them to victories early in the season. At Georgia last weekend things changed as walked batters killed the Tigers time and time again against the Bulldogs. Friday night Florida's offense centered around gifts from the Tigers once again as six of Florida's eight runs scored after reaching base either by a walk or being hit by a pitch. Coach Tommy Slater says it was a frustrating night all the way around as his team missed several opportunities on offense after fighting back from a three-run deficit to tie the game but this game was all about free bases for the Gators.
"The bottom line, they scored in the third, the fourth and in the 10th and we had walks and hit batters," Slater says. "Pat (McMahon) preaches the freebie war to the Florida offense. He talks to them about that all the time. It's what makes their offense go. Those are the innings that they scored and in each of those innings we gave them freebies with walks and hit batters.
"It's disappointing but I'm not disappointed in our kids," he adds. "Our kids are playing hard. You see what they are doing. I thought we played good offense tonight. We stole some bases. We hit and ran well. We did the things we needed to do offensively. Unfortunately, we walked too many people."
With the game tied heading to the 10th inning, Auburn reliever Brett Butts was used up after giving up just one hit in three innings of work to hold the Gators at bay. That meant it was time for Dennis to see if he could keep the Florida offense scoreless. With seven runs in the first four innings, the Gators failed to score the last five innings with Butts and Johnny Thompson doing yeoman's work out of the pen.
On this night the walk would once again bite the Tigers in a bad way. Leading off the 10th, Matt den Dekker walked and leadoff man Jon Townsend reached on just four pitches to follow and put the Gators in business against Dennis. A near double-play followed as the Tigers got the force at second but just missed getting Brian Leclerc at first. Matt LaPorta was up next and Dennis got him looking to seemingly get through the rough part of things with the Gators but it wasn't to be as the freshman Figueroa drilled a single through the right side to score den Dekker with the go-ahead run. Reliever Patrick Keating pitched a perfect bottom of the 10th to earn his second win of the season for Florida. Dennis took the loss to fall to 1-2 on the season.
For the fourth consecutive conference game this year, Auburn took the first lead as the Tigers got things going in the first inning against Florida starter Bryan Augenstine. Leading things off, Bruce Edwards put down a perfect bunt single and quickly moved to second on the first of his three stolen bases on the night. Luke Greinke made the steal pay off with a single to center field to easily score the speedy Edwards for the first run of the game.
A pop up by Josh Donaldson and a strikeout by Mike Bianucci left the fate of the inning up to true freshman Dustin Spruill. Getting a pitch to drive, Spruill deposited it over the right field wall for his first home run of the season. The blast gave Auburn a three-run advantage and put the Tigers in a good position with Woodall on the mound.
Bruce Edwards had three hits, scored two runs, and had a single-game tying record three stolen bases in Friday night's loss.
The sophomore made quick work of the Gators in the second inning but wouldn't be as fortunate in the third as number nine hitter den Dekker led off the frame with a single to center field. A walk to Townsend put runners on first and second and brought the heart of the Florida order to the plate. Leclerc was first up and he did his job with a single over the head of Robert Brooks at second base to load the bases for LaPorta.
Struggling to find the plate without giving the powerful LaPorta anything good to hit, Woodall fell behind and hit LaPorta to force home the first run of the inning for the Gators. Figueroa followed with a ground ball to Andy Bennett at first base that scored Townsend and cut Auburn's lead down to just one heading to the bottom of the third.
Edwards was again at the heart of an Auburn rally in the bottom of the third as, for the second time in the game, he led off an inning with a bunt single. Following a Greinke fly ball to right field for the first out, Edwards stole second to get into scoring position for Donaldson. The junior made the move work as he ripped a double to left field that scored Edwards to put Auburn back up 4-2. The double extended Donaldson's hitting streak to 12 games and gave Woodall a two-run advantage heading to the fourth.
Facing the bottom of the Florida order once again, Woodall against struggled as left fielder Chris Petrie drew a leadoff walk to put the Gators in business. Not doing himself any favors, Woodall then hit catcher Cody Neer to bring den Dekker to the plate. Following a ground ball to Bennett at first that moved the runners to second and third with one out, Townsend singled to center field to score both runs and tie the game at four. The Gators weren't done though as Leclerc doubled off Woodall to give the Gators their first lead of the game and chase Woodall from the game after just three and one/third innings.
With Thompson on in relief of Bryan Woodall for the Tigers, Florida didn't stop its offensive barrage as LaPorta greeted the senior with a double high off the wall in left field. The hit scored Leclerc to give Florida a two-run advantage. After another ground ball to Bennett, designated hitter Austin Pride singled to left field to score the fifth run of the inning for Florida as they led 7-4 heading to the bottom of the fourth.
That's the way the game would remain until the Tigers finally got the offense going once again in the bottom of the sixth. With one out in the inning, Brooks had a great at-bat against Augenstine before earning a walk from the big right-hander. That got Auburn kick-started as Bennett followed with a double high off the wall in left field to score Brooks. A walk to pinch hitter Ben Jones brought RBI machine Eric Skinner to the plate with the Tigers looking for more.
Executing the hit-and-run to perfection, Skinner lined a single into right field to score Bennett and cut the Gator lead down to just one with the top of the Auburn order coming back to the plate. That meant another at-bat for Edwards, which on this night was a good thing. Jumping on the first pitch he saw, Edwards singled up the middle to score Jones and tie the game at seven. Greinke hit into a double play to end the Auburn threat but the Tigers had come all the way back to tie the game with three innings to play.
Auburn had its chances to win the game in both the seventh and eighth innings but to no avail. In the seventh, Bianucci walked with one out and immediately stole second to move into scoring position. A line drive single just past a diving Florida shortstop forced Bianucci to freeze at second and left the Tigers with runners on first and third with just one out. It wasn't to be on this night as Brooks and Bennett struck out to end the Auburn threat. In the eighth a one-out triple by Skinner to left-center was wasted as Edwards struck out and Greinke hit a ground ball to third to end the inning and send the game to the ninth tied at seven. Florida would eventually earn the victory in the 10th and give Auburn its 14th-straight SEC loss. Slater says the Tigers will come back out tomorrow ready to play because that's what this team is all about.
"They are resilient," Slater says of his team. "Tonight should have shown that they are fine. They are angry and you would be angry too. They don't like losing, none of us do. They are putting forth great effort and playing their tails off. They expect to win. The whole game tonight, those kids in the dugout were expecting to win."
The Tigers and Gators will square off in game two of the series Saturday at 2 p.m. with sophomore Paul Burnside on the mound looking to end the conference skid for Auburn. The game can be seen live on both Sunshine Network and CSS.