It was a game of missed opportunities for the Tigers as they had their chances to make a game of it late, leaving eight runners on base in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings. Despite a pair of home runs and three hit on the day by Mike Bianucci and solid work out of the bullpen by Evan Crawford, the Tigers dropped their second consecutive series. Coach Tommy Slater said his team did some good things on Sunday, but just couldn't get the opportune hit.
"The law of averages says eventually we've got to get a hit with the bases loaded," Slater said. "We battled. I liked our approaches at the plate today. I thought we did a much better job with our approaches. We hit a lot of balls hard for outs as well as the hits we did have on the board. It was really good to see Evan Crawford throw the ball well in the back half of the game…he threw the ball well this weekend.
"We're going to try to take some positives out of this," he added. "I thought we played the game the right way. I thought our kids had some better approaches at the plate today than we had the last two days. Also Evan Crawford was a positive."
With the loss Auburn falls out of the top eight in the SEC with Arkansas winning its second straight series in the league and Alabama coming back to defeat Mississippi State on Sunday. With 12 games remaining, all against SEC West opponents, Slater said his team has its destiny in hand in the race for Hoover.
"We're in a stretch of games here in the SEC, we've got four weekends left," Slater said. "We control our own destiny. We've got nothing but west opponents left, teams that are below us, right with us, or close to us. There are some other teams we own the tiebreaker over that are a little in front of us. We control our own destiny. They understand that and they'll be ready to play."
Auburn manufactured a run in the first inning as center fielder Trent Mummey worked a walk and immediately stole second with Justin Hargett at the plate. Following a fly ball to left, Mummey stole second with Bianucci batting and in a sign of things to come Bianucci hit a deep fly ball to center to score Mummey, the first solid contact of the weekend for the junior. The sacrifice fly gave Auburn the 1-0 lead, but it would be the only lead of the day for the Tigers.
The Commodores came back to take the lead via the long ball in the bottom of the first. With two outs and nobody on Pedro Alvarez singled off Hendrix to bring Flaherty to the plate. Falling behind 2-0, Hendrix grooved a fastball that Flaherty sent out of the park for his first home run of the day. Leading 2-1, Vanderbilt came back for more in the second and got some help from the Tigers as Bradley Hendrix walked the leadoff man to start the inning. Following a sacrifice bunt, a single scored the run to give Vandy a two-run lead.
Again a leadoff walk cost the Tigers in the bottom of the third as Alvarez walked to lead things off. After moving to second on a ground ball, Alvarez scored on a Dominic de la Osa single to right field to make it 4-1 Vanderbilt. Auburn missed a golden opportunity in the top of the fourth as Bianucci singled for his first hit of the weekend and Hunter Morris followed with a walk to put the Tigers in business. It wasn't to be though as Brian Fletcher struck out before the Tigers attempted a double steal with David Cunningham at the plate. The Commodores would have none of that though as they threw to second to cut down Morris. Cunningham then struck out to end the threat for the Tigers.
Auburn finally broke through in the top of the fourth as Tony Caldwell's one-out double followed by a Matt Hall single to left put runners on the corners for Mummey and he delivered with a sacrifice fly to left to make it 4-2, but once again Auburn couldn't hold Vanderbilt as another leadoff walk cost the Tigers as with one out Flaherty hit his second two-run home run of the day to put the Commodores in front 6-2.
The sixth inning started a run of offense, but also disappointment for the Tigers as Bianucci led off the inning with a solo shot to left, his sixth of the season. Making it back to back, Morris hit his 10th of the season and second of the weekend to right field to cut the lead back to just 6-4. Auburn wasn't done as Fletcher reached on an error by Flaherty to keep the inning going. Executing a perfect hit and run, Cunningham's single to right field moved Fletcher to third to give the Tigers first and third with nobody out, but back to back strikeouts and a liner to short by Hall brought the inning to a close and started a run of missed opportunities for the Tigers.
With the lead cut back to two Auburn had a chance to stay in the game, but once again couldn't hold Vanderbilt there as Shea Robin and Steven Liddle singled to open the inning off Hurst. Following a sacrifice bunt, Alex Feinberg singled home both runners to push the lead out to 8-4. Later in the inning de la Osa singled home Feinberg off Crawford to give Vandy a five-run lead.
Showing some mettle Auburn again answered back as Bianucci's second home run of the game, a solo shot with two outs, cut Vanderbilt's lead to 9-5, but the Tigers weren't done. Morris was hit by a pitch, Fletcher doubled and Cunningham walked to load the bases with two outs, but Kevin Patterson struck out to end the inning with Auburn trailing by four.
With Crawford settling in on the mound the Tigers once again threatened in the eighth. Leading off Tony Caldwell was hit by a pitch and following a Hall fly ball out Mummey singled on the infield and Hargett worked a walk to load the bases with just one out. For the second consecutive inning the Tiger failed to score with the bases loaded as Bianucci struck out before a Morris pop up brought the inning to a close. That would be it on this day as Vanderbilt held on for the victory to earn the series win.
Bianucci's three-hit day led the way for Auburn as the Tigers finished with 10 hits on the day. For Vanderbilt de la Osa had three hits and two RBI while Alvarez, Flaherty, Robin and Liddle all had two hits as part of a 13-hit attack for the Commodores. On the mound Hendrix lasted just two and a third for the Tigers, giving up four earned runs on five hits. Michael Hurst came on and gave up two runs in two innings. Taylor Thompson then allowed three runs in one inning of work to close out the scoring. Crawford pitched two and two/thirds scoreless innings to finish the game for the Tigers.
Auburn returns to action this week with a Tuesday night game against Samford before traveling to Tuscaloosa for a three-game series against Alabama next weekend. Tuesday's game is scheduled for a 6 p.m. start.