Since 1997 Auburn hasn't won a series against South Carolina and coming into Friday night had won just six of 27 games against the Gamecocks. To make matters even worse, nine of those games were by one run, with many the strange variety. Friday night added another chapter to that for Auburn although Coach Tommy Slater said he just thinks it was a good game that unfortunately his team came up just short in.
"I just think it was a well-played game," Slater said. "I don't believe in karma, I don't believe in history. I don't believe in all that stuff. It was a well-played game. They were hitting and running there and the kid cues the ball off the end of the bat. The ball keeps running away from Matty (Matt Hall) and into the outfield. That's the breaks of the game. Both teams played well. We made a couple of mistakes. We made an error in the sixth which led to a couple of runs for them. We made a base running mistake obviously, but the kids battled their guts out. We pitched well. We had good at-bats all night long. That's the breaks of the game sometimes."
While it didn't amount in a win, Auburn starter Grant Dayton did a superb job against the Gamecocks, going seven and one/third innings, allowing five earned runs on nine hits while striking out four. Even though the Tigers wound up losing, Dayton showed a lot on Friday night and he said he just hung tough and tried to give as much as he could.
"They are real good hitters," Dayton said. "I left two balls over the plate and they knocked them out of the park. I have been working on a change up and it came along later in the game. At first it wasn't there. That was a tough loss."
Grant Dayton only threw 107 pitches in seven and one/third innings on Friday.
Trailing 6-4 in the seventh inning, the Auburn Tigers went to work on offense as shortstop Matt Hall walked to lead things off and Mike Bianucci followed and was hit by a pitch, but not before Hall moved to second on a passed ball. With runners on the corners, Hunter Morris singled to center field to score Hall, cut the lead to one, and put runners on first and second with nobody out.
With Joseph Sanders coming to the plate, Auburn was looking to bunt the runners over and try to tie or take the lead in the inning. On the first pitch Sanders attempted to bunt, but missed the pitch. Taking his lead too far off second base, Bianucci was picked off for the first out of the inning. That took the momentum out of Auburn's inning as back to back strikeouts left the Tigers down by just one.
Auburn starter Grant Dayton lasted into the eighth inning before giving way to reliever Michael Hurts with one out and a runner on first. The lanky sophomore quickly got two outs to end the inning and bring the Tigers back to the plate looking for more offense. South Carolina brought on closer Brandon Todd to start the eighth, but Auburn got something going right away as pinch hitter Ben Jones worked a walk and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Ryan Jenkins. A Justin Hargett groundout moved Jones to third with two outs for the top of the Auburn order and Trent Mummey came through with a single to right field. Jones scored on the play to tie the game at six.
South Carolina then got one of the biggest breaks it will get all season. With one out in the inning Hurst walked the pinch hitter Wingo to bring Havens to the plate. With a 1-0 count, Havens swung on a hit and run and just got a piece of the ball. On the move from his shortstop position, Hall couldn't get back in time to cut the slow roller off as it trickled into left field. Wingo moved all the way around to third with one out. Bryan Woodall came on to face Merrifield and got a diving stop by Sanders at third base to cut down Havens at second, but Wingo scored to put South Carolina back on top 7-6.
Auburn would have one more chance in the bottom of the inning. Leading off, Bianucci singled up the middle, but was nearly picked off again on a line out by Morris. Sanders then singled through the right side, but Bianucci was forced to hold at second after having to dodge the ball leaving first base. At the plate and already with a home run on the night was Brian Fletcher, but it wasn't to be as he hit into a game ending double play to leave the Tigers just short on Friday night.
It didn't take long for South Carolina's power to be on display on Friday night. With two outs in the top of the first Dayton got ahead of Justin Smoak 0-2, but left a pitch up that the first baseman crushed to left field for a solo home run. It was Smoak's 10th of the season and 49th of his career, first in South Carolina history.
After a leadoff single from Mummey was wasted in the bottom of the first, the long ball again came back to haunt Auburn in the second. With one out Dayton gave up a double to bring Andrew Crisp to the plate. Getting a pitch to drive, Crisp lifted a ball over the wall in left field for his first home run of the season. The blast put the Gamecocks up 3-0 and put the Tigers in an early hole.
Brian Fletcher is congratulated by Kevin Patterson following his long home run.
The Tigers got one back in the bottom of the second thanks to a red-hot Fletcher. With the wind blowing out, Fletcher hit a bomb to left field that almost cleared the scoreboard. It was Fletcher's third home run of the season and cut the South Carolina lead down to 3-1.
South Carolina got it right back in the third as a one out double by Merrifield set the table for Smoak and the big left delivered with a single up the middle. Merrifield scored easily on the play to make it 4-1 Gamecocks. Again Auburn came back to make things interesting with some offensive fireworks in the bottom of the inning.
Leading off the third, Justin Hargett singled up the middle, but was erased on a bunt attempt by Mummey. A single by Matt Hall to extend his hitting streak to 16 games put runners on first and second for Bianucci, but before he could swing both runners stole a base to move into scoring position. That proved to be big as Bianucci's fly ball to right scored Mummey. Morris followed with a double down the right field line to score Hall and cut the South Carolina lead down to one at 4-3.
The Tigers had a chance to tie the game or take the lead in the bottom of the fifth as Hargett singled to center field and moved to second on a Mummey groundout, but that would be as far as he would get as groundouts by Hall and Morris surrounding a Bianucci walk left the Tigers behind by one run heading to the sixth.
Auburn gave the Gamecocks some help in the sixth as a Hargett error of a James Darnell ground ball opened the floodgates as Phil Disher followed with a double to put runners on second and third with nobody out. After a wild pitch scored Darnell, Harvey Lail's blooper to right field scored Disher to make it 6-3 South Carolina.
Once again the Tigers got to South Carolina starter Mike Cisco, this time with some offense in the sixth. With one out Fletcher reached on an error and following a Kevin Patterson strikeout moved to third on a single by Jenkins. The bottom of the Auburn order continued to come through as Hargett's second hit of the night scored Fletcher to make it 6-4 South Carolina. That would be it though as Mummey was thrown out on a bang-bang play at first to end the inning with the Tigers still down two. The Tigers would make a run, but come up short once again to the Gamecocks.
The two teams will resume the series on Saturday at 3 p.m. with true freshman Cory Luckie (4-3, 3.31) getting the start versus junior lefty Will Atwood (3-1, 3.71) for the Gamecocks.