Auburn, Ala.--Looking to win their third series in the last four weeks, the Auburn Tigers instead ran into a buzz saw on the mound and at the plate as the Arkansas Razorbacks won handily 8-1 on Sunday afternoon to take the series and remain in control of the Southeastern Conference. Arkansas starter Jess Todd shut down the Tigers, allowing just six hits in a complete game effort, while Auburn's Bryan Woodall struggled all day long and dropped to 2-2 on the season after giving up 13 hits and seven earned runs in five and two/thirds innings.
With the loss Auburn falls to 28-19 overall and 7-17 in SEC play. Arkansas improves to 35-12, 15-6 in conference action. Auburn is tied with Georgia for last place in the conference but still is only three games out of sixth place as Florida was swept by Vanderbilt and is now just 10-11 in SEC play after starting the year 8-2.
The story of the day was the continued struggle on the mound for Auburn's starting pitching. Without Friday night starter Paul Burnside available, the Tigers failed to get a single quality start on the weekend and were very fortunate to earn a victory on Saturday to avoid a sweep. Slater says that while Woodall battled on the mound, they couldn't get anything going offensively against a very good Razorback club in the loss.
"Bryan competed his butt off for us today," Slater says. "He pitched through some jams and just competed.
"Todd was good," he adds. "We knew he was good. We had heard a lot of good things about him last summer when he was on the route from junior college. He was supposed to be going to Texas but they couldn't take him because he had started his career at Texas Tech…he was as good as advertised today."
The only bright spot on the day was from true freshman pitcher Austin Hubbard. Coming on in relief in the sixth inning, Hubbard gave up four hits and one earned run as he shut down the powerful Razorbacks. Slater says it was the second consecutive good outing for Hubbard and it was good to see.
"I thought Austin threw the ball well," Slater says. "For me, that's the second-best team we've seen this year offensively. I thought Arizona State was the best team we've seen. I think those guys are the second-best offensive team we've seen this year. Hub threw the ball well. He spun some breaking balls and some sliders and his fastball got on them a little bit. He did a good job. It was encouraging to see."
It didn't take long for the Razorbacks to jump out on top in Sunday's contest as Jake Dugger doubled to lead off the game against Woodall and scored on a two-out single by Jeff Nutt to make it 1-0 Arkansas. They extended the lead in the second as Brian Walker hit his third home run in as many days to put the Hogs up by two. That's the way things would stay until the bottom of the third when Auburn finally got to Arkansas starter Jess Todd for the first time.
Leading off the inning, third baseman Justin Bristow singled to left field and advanced to second on an infield single by Ryan Jenkins. A near perfect bunt by Eric Skinner moved the runners up for the top of the Auburn order but they could only get one run home on a Bruce Edwards ground ball for the second out. A walk to Luke Greinke put two runners on for Mike Bianucci but his ground ball brought the inning to a close with the Tigers down 2-1.
That's as close as the Tigers would get on this day as they managed just three hits in the next six innings off Todd. Meanwhile the Razorbacks started the onslaught against Woodall with a two-run top of the fourth. Leading off, Walker singled to right field and second baseman Matt Willard reached on a hit-by-pitch to put the Hogs in business. Following a sacrifice bunt, a walk to Dugger loaded the bases. It looked as if Woodall might get out of the jam with a shallow fly ball to left for out number two but back to back singles by Logan Forsythe and Nutt put Arkansas up 4-1.
Auburn threatened in the bottom of the inning but a fantastic defensive play put an end to the last threat from the Tigers on this day. With one out Robert Brooks singled to left field and moved to second on a walk to Ross Smith to bring Bristow to the plate. Getting a pitch to pull, Bristow lined a one-hop ground ball down the third base line. Stellar defensively all weekend, Forsythe made a diving grab, stepped on the bag at third, and threw to first for the double play to end the inning.
"I thought early we had some at-bats that put pressure on him," Slater says. "In the fourth it was a 4-1 game and that's a double down the line. At the very list you're going to score one and possibly two. The worst case scenario is that it's 4-2 and you've got runners on second and third with Ryan Jenkins coming to the plate. He's a good situational hitter and is going to come up and hit the ground ball and make it 4-3. That was the play of the game right there. It might be as good of a play as I've seen in a long time."
Pounding Woodall in every inning, the Razorbacks loaded the bases with nobody out in the fifth on a hit by pitch and two bunt singles but failed to score. Woodall and the Tigers wouldn't be as fortunate in the sixth as Sean Jones led off with a single to center field. One out later another Nutt single gave Arkansas runners on first and third for Casey Coon. Just like the fourth, Woodall again looked as if he would escape damage as he got Coon but a Hamblin infield single and a Walker double following a wild pitch gave Arkansas a commanding 7-1 lead. Hubbard came on to get the final out of the inning but it was too little, too late on this day.
With Todd cruising towards his second consecutive complete game on 113 pitches, the Tigers were shut down for the second out of three games against the Razorbacks on the weekend. For the game the Tigers finished with just six hits and two came from Bristow in just his second start of the year. Edwards, Bennett, Brooks and Jenkins had the full allotment of Auburn's hits on the day. For the Razorbacks Walker had four hits while Forsythe and Nutt had three hits each as Arkansas finished with 17 hits.
Auburn travels to Starkville next weekend to face Mississippi State in a three-game series with their postseason lives on the line. Now 7-14 in SEC play, the Tigers are looking up at a logjam of five teams with either nine or 10 conference wins heading into week eight of SEC play.