Starkville, Miss--Despite Evan Crawford's best pitching performance of the season, the Auburn Tigers came up short on the road Friday night as Mississippi State scored two runs in its first and last at-bat and held Auburn to just three hits in a 4-1 victory at Dudy Noble Field. With the loss Auburn drops to 28-20 overall, 7-15 in SEC play. The Bulldogs improve to 29-12, 11-9 in conference action.
On a night when Crawford only allowed four hits and two unearned runs in five and two/thirds innings with Paul Burnside still out because of a strained bicep muscle, it was MSU's Chad Crosswhite that was the story of the game. Coming into the contest with a 5-2 record and an ERA of 4.70, the sophomore shut down the Tigers to earn the victory. Although Auburn didn't pound out the hits, Coach Tommy Slater says his team had some opportunities and didn't get the job done.
"I know there is only three or four hits on the ledger but there were only four fly ball outs and lots of line drives," Slater says. "We had some hard ground balls. Credit Crosswhite because I thought he did a good job but we had good at-bats and didn't strike out a lot. I thought the kids really battled and put some good at-bats in there."
One of those at-bats came late in the contest with the Tigers down one. While it wasn't a great offensive night for the Tigers playing without slugger Mike Bianucci because of a strained hamstring, they did have their chances in this low scoring contest. Perhaps the inning that summed up the game perfectly for Auburn was in the eighth with the Tigers trailing 2-1. With one out left fielder Luke Greinke reached on a wild pitch as he swung at strike three in the dirt and advanced to first to bring junior Josh Donaldson to the plate with a chance to give the Tigers the lead.
With Greinke running on the pitch, the Tigers looked to be in good shape as Donaldson drove the ball deep into left field. Unfortunately for Auburn, the ball came up just short and was caught against the wall for out number two. The relay back to the infield was easily in time to double up Greinke at first. It was the third serious scoring opportunity for the Tigers that came up empty and Slater says it was just bad luck for Donaldson and his team.
"We're running on the pitch," Slater says. "We're going to steal second there. Donaldson hits it and worse case scenario, off the bat, Luke read it and I was screaming for him to keep running, it's a double off the wall and we're going to score because we're running on the pitch. We were all shocked that ball was caught. Donny put some good swings on the ball tonight. He had four well-hit balls tonight. He just couldn't find any holes."
That's all the momentum the Mississippi State Bulldogs would need on this night as they caught Dennis trying to get ahead in the bottom of the eighth and on back-to-back fastballs both Edward Easley and Mitch Moreland hit solo home runs to give Mississippi State a comfortable 4-1 advantage. Reliever Aaron Weatherford finished things off in the ninth to earn the save and give the Bulldogs the win.
On a night when Crawford probably deserved better, it was his mistakes in the first inning that allowed Mississippi State to get the lead initially. Leading off the bottom of the first, Jeffrey Rea worked a walk on four pitches to put the Bulldogs in business. Joseph McCaskill then hit a tailor-made double play ball right back to Crawford but the sophomore threw the ball into center field for an error and just like that MSU had runners on first and second with nobody out. As if things couldn't get any worse, a passed ball charged to Donaldson moved the runners up where a ground ball to short scored the Rea for the first run. Later in the inning Brian LaNinfa doubled home McCaskill to give the Bulldogs a 2-0 lead.
Crawford settled down to retire the Bulldogs in order in the second and Auburn went to work in the top of the third against Crosswhite thanks to questionable defense by the home team. Leading off the inning, Ross Smith walked and advanced to second when Justin Bristow's grounder to third was booted. With runners on first and second and nobody out, Eric Skinner's bunt went back to Crosswhite who threw to third to retire Smith. Following a ground ball by Bruce Edwards to third to again cut down the lead run, Greinke reached on the second error of the inning by the MSU third baseman to bring Donaldson to the plate. In what would be a night to forget for the catcher, he hit a fly ball to center field for the final out and the first three of seven runners left on base for the game.
Another 1-2-3 inning by Crawford in the bottom of the third gave Auburn some life and the Tigers made it pay off in the fourth as a one-out single by Joseph Sanders set the table for fellow freshman Robert Brooks. Getting a pitch to drive, Brooks hit it to the base of the right field wall to score Sanders and cut the lead in half. With the tying run at second the Tigers could do no more as Smith and Bristow both hit ground balls to end the inning with Auburn down 2-1.
Auburn would threaten seriously again in the fifth inning when Skinner reached on an error by the Bulldog shortstop to put the Tigers in business. A single by Edwards moved Skinner to second and just like that Auburn had two on and nobody out with its top two hitters coming to the plate. It just wasn't to be on this night though Greinke's ground ball to short was thrown to third to cut down Skinner for the first out. Up for the second time with runners on, Donaldson hit into an inning-ending double play to keep the Bulldogs' lead at one.
That's the way things would remain until Mississippi State broke the game open in the bottom of the eight with back-to-back home runs off Dennis who came on in the sixth. With the loss Auburn remains in last place in the SEC, tied with the Georgia Bulldogs. Auburn will look to get back on the winning track in game two on Saturday as freshman Taylor Thompson takes the mound looking for his fifth win. Saturday's game can be seen live on CSS beginning at 6 p.m.