Auburn, Ala.--Auburn battled valiantly against the top-ranked Vanderbilt Commodores on Saturday, coming back from a two-run deficit in the ninth to tie the game, but couldn't finish things off as Vandy scored the winning run on a passed ball in the top of the 10th after a lengthy weather delay to defeat Auburn 6-5 at Plainsman Park.
With the loss Auburn (28-24, 7-19) has lost eight of nine SEC games and has officially been eliminated from SEC Tournament consideration. Vanderbilt improves to 43-9, 19-7 in league play and clinched at least a tie for the Eastern Division crown with four games remaining in the regular season. Auburn's Tommy Slater says the loss was another tough one for his team because they played well enough to win but just couldn't make the plays.
"It was real tough," Slater says. "Our kids just keep playing and battling. They haven't given in and given up. I'm just proud of their resiliency. We played good. Credit our guys for coming back on a guy like (Casey) Weathers there late and putting up two."
It was a disappointing game on what is supposed to be a happy day for the program as seniors Chris Dennis, Bruce Edwards, Phillip Stringer, Johnny Thompson, Andy Bennett, Travis Coleman, Ryan Stanley, Ted Bryant and Jay Osbourne were recognized before the game for their commitment to Auburn baseball in their careers. Slater says Bennett came to him before Saturday's game and with three hits in the contest he delivered when given the chance.
"It was an outstanding day by Andy Bennett on Senior Day," Slater says. "He had a good weekend last weekend at Mississippi State. He sat in my office this morning and told me how much he really wanted to play on Senior Day. How he was feeling good. I'm just really proud of him personally and for the team, the way he played. He's a kid that was an every day guy a year ago and has had his struggles but never gave in. He kept working and kept battling. It's good to see him get rewarded for some of that."
Chris Dennis throws on Senior Day at Plainsman Park.
For the second consecutive day it was Auburn that got on the board first against the top-ranked Commodores at Plainsman Park. In the top of the first a two-out double by Josh Donaldson set the table for sophomore slugger Mike Bianucci to do some early damage. Working the count to 3-0, Bianucci turned loose on a fastball and drove it off the bottom of the scoreboard for his 14th home run of the season. The blast gave the Tigers an early advantage but the Commodores immediately cut into it in the top of the second.
Leading off the second, Vanderbilt power supplier Pedro Alvarez did just that for the Commodore offense as he took a Thompson fastball deep to center field for a solo home run. It was his 14th of the season and cut Auburn's lead in half. Doing what they needed on this day, Auburn answered back with a run in the bottom of the fourth.
With one out in the inning, sophomore catcher Ryan Jenkins reached on a hard hit single to center field to bring light-hitting shortstop Phillip Stringer to the plate. Getting a hitters count, Stringer stroked a double into deep left-center field that easily scored Jenkins to put the Tigers back up by two. Stringer was thrown out trying to stretch the hit into a triple to end the Auburn rally with the Tigers holding a 3-1 lead.
Like good teams are supposed to do, Vandy answered emphatically in the top of the fifth to take a lead it would never relinquish. With Thompson worn down on a hot day, the Commodores got a single and double to start the fifth before a ground ball to short by Shea Robin scored the first run of the inning. Leadoff man David Macias continued his stellar play on the weekend with a ground rule double to right field that scored Andrew Giobbi to tie the game at three. De la Osa then put a cap on the scoring with a double to left that scored Macias to put Vandy on top 4-3.
Auburn would have its chances on offense in several innings down the stretch only to come up empty. A two-out rally in the fifth started with a double by Bianucci followed by back-to-back hit by pitches to Andy Bennett and Robert Brooks but a groundout by Ross Smith ended the Auburn threat. In the sixth a two-out walk to Bruce Edwards and a bunt single by Luke Greinke that was thrown into right field gave the Tigers runners on second and third with two outs and Donaldson at the plate but a ground ball to second brought the rally to an end.
Robert Brooks applies the tag to a Vanderbilt runner on Saturday.
Hubbard escaped some damage of his own in the seventh against the Commodores as Alex Feinberg reached on an error by Donaldson to start the inning. The powerful de la Osa then crossed up the Tigers by putting down a perfect bunt single to set the table for Alvarez. Drilling a liner into left field, Alvarez loaded the bases with nobody out against the freshman from Homewood. Showing his toughness, Hubbard would buckle down as he got the next man on strikes before getting a 6-4-3 twin killing to end the threat with Auburn down still just one.
Vanderbilt extended its lead in the top of the ninth off Dennis as de la Osa hit a solo shot to right field for a 5-3 advantage. That looked to be the end of the day for the Tigers as Commodore super reliever Casey Weathers came on to finish off Auburn in the bottom of the ninth but the Tigers wouldn't lie down. With one out in the inning, Greinke singled up the middle to give the offense some life and advanced to second on a wild pitch.
That set the table for Donaldson and the junior came through with a single to right field to score Greinke. A single by Bianucci followed through the left side to put runners on first and second for Bennett. Continuing a strong senior day, Bennett singled sharply to left to score Donaldson and tie the game at five with the Tigers still in business. Unfortunately a double play off the bat of Brooks meant extra innings.
Playing through fairly close lightening for much of the last three innings, the two teams were forced into a lengthy delay before the 10th would begin. Waiting an hour and a half before resuming the game due to a lightning delay, things ended quickly as Vanderbilt used a leadoff double by Ryan Davis on the first pitch from Brett Butts to start the 10th. A sacrifice bunt followed to move Davis to third with one out and the second out came on a ground ball to Justin Bristow at third base that held the runner at third. With two outs came yet another tough way for the Tigers to lose as a passed ball charged to Donaldson behind the plate allowed Davis to score the go-ahead run. Weathers came back to shut the door on the Tigers in the ninth as he struck out the final two Auburn hitters to preserve the Vanderbilt series win as earn his 10th victory of the season.
Both Bianucci and Bennett had three hits for the Tigers with Greinke and Donaldson chipping in with two hits each. Auburn managed 12 hits on the day but left 10 runners on base to hurt its chances of victory. Vanderbilt was paced by de la Osa and Alvarez with three hits each to lead a 14-hit attack by the Commodores.
Auburn will send sophomore Bryan Woodall to the mound on Sunday looking to get the Tigers back on the winning track. The game is scheduled for a 1:30 p.m. start.