Bulldogs Nip Tigers In Well-Pitched Game

The Tigers didn't have enough offensive juice on Saturday night as Mississippi State edged Auburn.

Auburn, Ala.--Mississippi State survived a late Auburn rally to square its SEC baseball series with a 4-3 victory on Saturday night at Plainsman Park.

The pitchers held the upper hand as each team managed just six hits. The Tigers had a good shot at number seven with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game, but Justin Hargett's line drive to deep right center field was hauled in as Bulldog bullpen star Aaron Weatherford kept his 0.00 earned run average unblemished in 22 2/3 innings this season.

"Losing today stinks," said Auburn coach Tom Slater, who noted that he liked the way his team pitched, played defense and competed.

With the loss, the Tigers dropped to 9-14 in SEC play, two games out of a top eight spot in the league. Only the top eight teams qualify for the SEC Tournament.

"On Sunday we have a chance to go out and win a series," Slater added. "The kids have come out and they are playing their guts out."

The Tigers got a solid start from sophomore right-hander Taylor Thompson, who suffered the loss but pitched well in his first SEC start of the season. Michael Hurst was even better, throwing three innings of scoreless relief to give the Tigers a chance for a comeback win vs. a Mississippi State team that improved to 7-16 in the SEC and 19-27 overall vs. an AU team that is now 25-23.

"I walked the opening batter in the third and left a few balls up in the (strike) zone and they scored a couple of runs," said Thompson, who only ran into serious trouble in one of his six innings pitched.

With the Tigers having only seven SEC games left, Auburn needs to win on Sunday as Luke Greinke will get the start on the mound for Auburn vs. Justin Pigott. With Auburn using just one relief pitcher in each of the first two games, the bullpen is well rested.

"We are starting to feel a little pressure, but we are not letting it get to us," Thompson said. "We know we what have got to do. We have to come out here every day and play how we know how to play. We need to win (Sunday), but we could get away with it. We need to win every game we can and not have to worry about it down the stretch."

Auburn took the lead with a run in the second inning. Joseph Sanders ripped a double down the left field line and moved to third base on a wild pitch. After a short fly ball to right by Brian Fletcher couldn't score the runner, a soft grounder to second baseman by David Cunningham got the job done.

The Bulldogs responded with three runs in the top of the third inning on three hits. Grant Hogue knocked home one run and Ryan Powers brought in two more with a single to center field.

The Tigers cut the gap to 3-2 with a run in the bottom of the half of the inning on a play that featured the ejection of Mississippi State coach Ron Polk.

Mike Bianucci, with two outs and Hargett on third base, smacked a hard-hit ground ball to shortstop, but the throw across the diamond by Ryan Powers pulled the first baseman off the bag. Polk didn't like the call, which he argued for several minutes while getting tossed for the sixth time this season.

Justin Hargett takes a lead off second base in the third inning prior to scoring the second run for the Tigers. He had two of AU's six hits.

State regained a two-run lead in the sixth inning with a solo home run to left center that was a no-doubter by Tyler Moore, his 11th of the season.

Thompson, who got the start in place of injured Cory Luckie, lasted six innings for the Tigers. He gave up four runs on five hits as he tied his season-high for strikeouts with seven.

Taylor Thompson (right) has a conference on the mound with pitching coach Butch Thompson and catcher Ryan Jenkins.

Mississippi State starter Ricky Bowen had struggled this year with a 2-5 record and a 7.38 earned run average, but he gave up just six hits and three runs in seven and one third innings while earning the victory.

Bowen was chased from the game with one out in the eighth inning on a long home run over the Green Monster by Bianucci to cut the Mississippi State lead to 4-3. That gave the crowd of 2,523 fans at Plainsman Park some the cheer about for the first time since the third inning other than terrific defensive players by Trent Mummey in center field and Hargett at second base.

Auburn made it interesting in the bottom of the ninth against Weatherford, who was throwing his fastball in the mid 90 miles per hour range and also using a split finger fastball.

A two-out walk to Matt Hall gave the Tigers hope. He then stole second base where he was stranded after Hargett's shot to the center field was caught to end the game.

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