Leading 8-6 after scoring a pair of runs in both the sixth and seventh innings, Auburn couldn't hold the lead as the Bulldogs came back to earn the victory and split the series for the season. The loss drops Auburn to 25-15 overall while Samford improves to 18-19 on the year.
While Auburn's offense was solid all night with 14 hits and eight runs scored, on this night it was the pitching that did in the Tigers. Expecting to use three or four different pitchers with freshman Austin Hubbard getting the start, Auburn instead was forced to throw six different hurlers with only Johnny Thompson and Brett Butts, who combined for just one and two/thirds innings, not allowing at least one run.
Coach Tommy Slater says the struggle on the mound was the most disappointing aspect of the loss.
"We didn't pitch well from start to end," Slater says. "You script these games out and you plan on throwing each guy a little bit, but I looked up in the fourth inning and we had already used three pitchers. It wasn't going too good from a pitching standpoint just because we did have a lot of guys available to throw, but you would have liked to gotten through four innings without three guys having to throw.
"We swung the bats fine," he adds. "We were able to put up eight runs in a mid-week game and got 14 hits. The bottom line is we've got to pitch better and I didn't think we pitched well tonight."
That was never more evident than in the eighth inning. Leading by two with the bottom of the Samford order coming to the plate, senior Chris Dennis was back on the mound for his second inning of work looking to keep the Bulldogs at bay.
Right away things started rocky as Dennis walked pinch-hitter Benji Waite to bring second baseman Wayne Miller to the plate. Hitting .175 coming into the game, Miller bombed a pitch deep into right-center field that sent Auburn's Bruce Edwards on a dead sprint. Running close to 50 yards to get to the ball, Edwards couldn't make the play as the ball bounced off his glove for a double. That left Samford with runners on second and third with nobody out.
A sacrifice fly by Michael Marseco cut the lead to just one and continuing the trend, Bear Burnett doubled to center field to easily score Miller to tie the game at eight. That was the end of the line for Dennis as Butts came on. It didn't matter to Samford as he threw a wild pitch right away to move Burnett to third.
A walk to Parker Gargis brought catcher Luke Peavy to the plate looking for redemption and he delivered with a long ground-rule double to left field that scored the go-ahead run from second. Samford Coach Casey Dunn was tossed on the play because the play was first ruled a home run. It didn't matter on this night though as Samford's Joseph Edens came on to close the game out in the ninth for the Bulldog victory.
Samford got things going early as the Bulldogs pushed a run across in the bottom of the first off Hubbard. Leading off, Marseco ripped a pitch up the middle for a single and just like that Samford was in business. Up next, Burnett was hit by a pitch on a 0-2 count to bring Gargis to the plate. Drilling a one-hopper to Josh Donaldson at third base, Gargis was doubled up as Donaldson stepped on the bag and threw to first just in time. A walk to Peavy then brought Louis Rojas to the plate. Playing in a huge ballpark, Rojas blooped a single to left field in front of Bianucci for the game's first run.
Donaldson turns a double play in the first inning.
Neither team threatened in the second, but Auburn finally made some offensive noise in the top of the third. Leading off, Edwards lined a single into left field to bring Luke Greinke to the plate. With an average arm behind the plate for Samford, Edwards was off and running, but Greinke swung and missed trying to protect his runner. In doing so, Greinke moved close to the plate and was called for interference and ruled out.
Edwards went back to first, but quickly stole second with Donaldson up to move into scoring position. Working the count to 3-0, Donaldson jumped on a fastball and hit it hard into the hole at short. Making a diving stop, Marseco threw to third but not in time to catch Edwards. Following a Mike Bianucci strikeout, a walk to Joseph Sanders then loaded the bases but Dustin Spruill popped out to short to end the threat and keep Auburn scoreless.
Samford attempted to break the game open in the bottom of the inning, but two great defensive plays by the Tigers kept them in the game. Leading off, Marseco reached on an error by Sanders at second base. Playing his first game at a new position, Sanders charged the ball when he should have waited and booted it for the error.
A Burnett bunt single brought Gargis to the plate where the Auburn legacy lined a double off the wall in left field to score Marseco. A great play by Bianucci kept the second run from scoring and that would prove to be huge.
Yet another bunt single followed as Peavy squeezed home Burnett ahead of a flip from Hubbard off the mound. That would be the last batter for Hubbard as Blake came on in relief. He immediately got a double play, although an unusual one, to help the Tigers out of a jam. Getting a fly ball to Bianucci in left, Hubbard watched as the sophomore gunned down Gargis at the plate for the double play. A diving grab by Donaldson and a strike to first retired Garrett Rice to end the inning and give Auburn some momentum coming to the plate.
Unable to get anything going against Samford starter Trent Hill, Auburn was looking to change that as reliever Daniel Payne came on to start the fourth. It looked like nothing had changed as Payne retired the first two Auburn hitters before freshman Ross Smith lined what appeared to be a harmless single to left. Instead, that started a huge two-out rally as Edwards followed with a single to right field that moved Smith to third. Trying to gun him down, Samford's Rojas threw the ball away allowing Smith to score and Edwards to advance to second.
A single by Greinke to left then scored Edwards to cut Samford's lead to 3-2 with Donaldson coming to the plate. Pitching around the slugging junior, Samford decided to take its chances with Bianucci who promptly singled to left. Scoring on the play, Donaldson tied the game at three and gave the pro-Auburn crowd a reason to cheer.
Samford and Auburn both added single runs in their next at-bat with an Edwards RBI single pushing home the run for the Tigers. The Bulldogs came back with two big runs in the bottom of the fifth as reliever Bryan Woodall got the first out of the inning before his strikeout of Rojas got by the catcher to allow him to reach first. A ground ball for the second out of the inning left the Tigers looking good but Woodall's walk to Swann gave the Bulldogs a second life and John Morgan made the Tigers pay as he tripled into right-center to score both runs and make it 6-4 Samford.
Auburn's offense wouldn't quit though as the Tigers added two runs in both the sixth and seventh innings to take the lead only to see Samford come up with a big eighth for the win.
In the sixth a Sanders one-out single got things started for Auburn as Ryan Jenkins followed with a single of his own to put runners on first and second. A fielder's choice from Brooks retired Jenkins at second for out number two, but the Tigers made something happen thanks to some shaky Samford defense.
A wild pitch scored Sanders to cut the lead to one and when the ball bounced away from Peavy, Brooks raced for third. Peavy's throw to third base was way off the mark and sailed into left field. Brooks scored on the error to once again tie the game, the time at six.
The seventh would also be kind to the Tigers as Edwards was once again the catalyst, reaching on an error to start things. Things looked to be short-lived as Greinke hit into a double play, but Donaldson got right back to work with a sharp double to left field that brought Bianucci to the plate. Deciding to buck the odds and walk Bianucci to face Auburn's top hitter Sanders, Samford paid the price as the freshman lined a double to left field.
Now ahead 8-6, Auburn turned the game over to Dennis and the Auburn bullpen but the pitchers wouldn't be able to hold the lead after a long night in Hoover as Samford came back for the 9-8 victory.
Auburn was led at the plate by Edwards with three hits, one run scored and one RBI. Greinke, Donaldson, Sanders and Brooks all had two hits. For Samford Burnett was the only player with two hits and the Bulldogs got just nine hits on the night but made them pay off with nine big runs.
The Tigers return to action this weekend at home in a three-game series against rival Alabama at Plainsman Park. Game times for the weekend at 7 p.m. on Friday, 3 p.m. on Saturday and 1:30 p.m. on Sunday.