Auburn, Ala.--The struggles continue for the Auburn Tigers as they dropped their eighth-straight conference game to open the SEC schedule as Ole Miss won Saturday's game 7-4 at Plainsman Park. Rebel starter Lance Lynn was the story of the day as he earned the victory by allowing just four runs in six and one/third innings and striking out 10. The loss drops Auburn to 19-11 overall, 0-8 in SEC play while Ole Miss improves to 21-8, 5-3 in conference action.
On a day when the Tigers seemed so close to breaking through with a victory, things once again fell apart. While the defense and pitching staff had been the culprits in last weekend's sweep against Florida, against the Rebels it has been Auburn's offense that hasn't gotten the job done. Coach Tommy Slater says all facets of the game need to be better if they hope to break the streak on Sunday but the team continues to work hard and that is important at a time like this.
"The bottom line is that we've got to be better," Slater says. "I'm not going to sugarcoat it. We didn't make errors but we shouldn't make errors. I'm not going to sugarcoat it. We've got to be better. We made some mental mistakes today that you just can't afford to make.
"We're never going to give up on them," Slater adds. "We're going to continue to work with them. Whether it's baseball or life or whatever, you get up each morning and go to work and get after it. We just keep preaching that to them. I don't have anything else to say to them other than to keep after it."
Similar to Friday's game, both pitchers dominated through three innings before the Rebels broke through in the top of the fourth against Crawford. With Lynn having struck out seven of the last eight Auburn hitters, the Rebels came to the plate hoping to get something going against the sophomore lefty. They did but with a lot of help from Crawford himself. After getting the first two hitters in the inning, Crawford gave up a single to Zack Cozart. Two wild pitches and a passed ball later and Ole Miss had a 1-0 lead. Back to back walks followed before a Logan Power single pushed across run number two for the Rebels.
They would extend the lead in the fifth as yet another walk by Crawford led to a run. Leading off the inning, Fuller Smith walked and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. Jordan Henry then pushed him across with a single to center field and just like that it was 3-0 Ole Miss heading to the bottom of the fifth and the Tigers would finally get to the dominant Lynn.
Leading things off, true freshman Joseph Sanders doubled off the wall in left field to get things going. Sophomore right fielder Ben Jones was next and he came through with a single to right field to put runners on the corners with nobody out. Auburn would manage just one run though as a Phillip Stringer sacrifice fly plated Sanders before a Bruce Edwards double play brought the inning to a close.
Ole Miss got the run back in the sixth as, once again, a walk contributed directly to a Rebel run. With two outs and nobody on, reliever Bryan Woodall walked C.J. Ketchum to bring Smith to the plate. That's all the left fielder needed as he jumped on an inside pitch and lined it over the head of Sanders and into the corner for a double. Ketchum scored on the hit to push the lead back to 4-1. Slater says it's disappointing that Crawford lost his rhythm after pitching well early.
"Evan started out fine and his pitch count was low but you just can't lose the command of the game like he did there in the fourth inning," Slater says. "That forced us to go to the bullpen awful early."
The Tigers had a chance to get back into the game in a big way in the bottom of the sixth as Luke Greinke reached to lead off the inning as he was hit by a Lynn pitch. Josh Donaldson then ripped a double off the wall in left to give Auburn runners on second and third with nobody out. Mike Bianucci then came up for the first of two at-bats on the day as the potential tying run. He didn't get the job done as he struck out to bring Dustin Spruill to the plate. A wild pitch scored Greinke from third and moved Donaldson to the corner with still just one out. That would be it though as Lynn got Spruill on a pop up before striking out Robert Brooks to end the threat.
"In the sixth inning with runners on second and third and nobody out with your four and five-hole hitters up and the infield playing back, you need to hit two ground balls there to score two runs," Slater says. "That would make it a 4-3 game. Luckily they gave us a run on a wild pitch but still, we've got to do a better job there of getting in the second run. We did a bad job. We punch and get an infield pop up. That's not good. We've got to be better than that."
Things would only get worse for Auburn as Ole Miss exploded to break open the game in the top of the seventh. Leading off against Woodall, Henry singled to left field and stole second to move into scoring position. Brother Justin Henry followed with a ground rule double to right to push the lead back to three runs. That was the end of the day for Woodall as Chris Dennis came on. Unfortunately four more singles in the inning would add two more Ole Miss runs as the Rebels held a commanding 7-2 advantage.
Sophomore Ben Jones had two of Auburn's eight hits on the day.
Auburn succeeded in knocking Lynn out of the game in the bottom of the seventh but it would be too little, too late in the end. With one out, Ben Jones singled to right field and stole second to move into scoring position for Stringer. Getting a pitch to drive, Stringer lined a foul ball off the left field wall just missing a double. Not giving in, Stringer bombed a pitch deep over the center field wall for a two-run home run. His first home run of the season cut the lead down to three and got Auburn back in the game.
One out later, Greinke put down a perfect bunt single to bring Donaldson to the plate. Following a Greinke steal of second, Donaldson walked to once again bring Bianucci to the plate as the tying run. Just like his first time up, Bianucci struck out against Ole Miss reliever Scott Bittle to end the Auburn threat. The Tigers would go quietly in the eighth and ninth as Ole Miss earned the series win with the victory. The loss is Auburn's 18th-straight in conference play dating back to last season.
At the plate, the Tigers managed just eight hits off Rebel pitching as Greinke, Jones and Stringer had two hits each. Donaldson and Sanders both added doubles to account for all of the Auburn hits. For Ole Miss, both Henrys, Cozart, Power and Smith all had two hits as the Rebels collected 13 hits off Auburn pitchers.
On the mound for the Tigers, Crawford allowed three earned runs in four and one/third innings, walked three, and didn't strike out a batter. Woodall allowed four hits and three earned runs in one and two/thirds innings. Dennis finished off the game for the Tigers, allowing just one earned run on five hits while striking out two.
Auburn looks to get off the mat on Sunday as true freshman Taylor Thompson gets the call for the Tigers against Craig Rodriguez for Ole Miss. The game time is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. and there is no television.