Despite a solid outing once again from freshman starter Grant Dayton that saw him go seven innings, allowing five earned runs on 13 hits and striking out seven, Auburn couldn't get the big hit when it was needed as the Tigers left 13 runners on base in the loss. Coach Tommy Slater said the disappointment is obvious because his team was focused on postseason play only to come up short.
"It's tough," Slater said. "They had a goal at the beginning of the year to get to the postseason and now officially we won't make it to Birmingham. It's tough. These kids have put in a lot of work since Aug. 16 when we all congregated here. The goal was to get to Birmingham and that was step one. Now it's official they're not going to make it. It's always disappointing when you've put in as much hard work as these young men have."
This game came down to missed opportunities and a questionable call by the home plate umpire. Trailing 4-1 in the bottom of the sixth inning, Auburn came to the plate against LSU starter Ryan Verdugo looking to make something happen. Leading off the inning, Joseph Sanders smoked a ball to deep left field that went out of the park just below the scoreboard. It was his fourth homer in four games and his sixth of the season and cut the LSU lead down to two. Auburn wasn't done though as with two outs Kevin Patterson doubled down the left field line and scored on a double by Ryan Jenkins to set up the play of the game.
Lining a pitch to center field, Trent Mummey appeared to tie the game when Jenkins beat the throw by Mitchell for center field, a call that was later confirmed by instant replay in the press box, but home plate umpire Dennis McComb saw it differently. He called Jenkins out bringing Slater on a dead sprint from the dugout. Slamming his hat down, Slater was tossed from the game and got a standing ovation from the Auburn crowd.
"You got to see the TV replay and I saw it live," Slater said. "I have been thrown out of one game this year and that was tonight. I disagreed with the call. That would have tied the game and we're still batting. Obviously that's a big part of the game. It impacts a lot of things. You guys know me I don't treat those things lightly. I don't like to get thrown out of games. I thought that was a pretty important play."
That wasn't the end of Auburn's chances on this night though as LSU scored a run in the seventh to make it 5-3 before Auburn came back in the bottom of the inning. Leading off Brian Fletcher singled and Hunter Morris singled to follow to bring Mike Bianucci to the plate. Looking for something to move the runners, Bianucci struck out for the first out of the inning. Sanders followed with a RBI single to right to make it 5-4, but that would be all as Paul Bertuccini got Auburn to keep LSU's lead at one.
LSU added another single run in the eighth before Auburn again missed a golden opportunity to get on the board. With two outs and nobody on Mummey singled to center, Fletcher was hit by a pitch and Morris intentionally walked to bring Bianucci to the plate. Facing reliever Jared Bradford, Bianucci struck out to end the threat and Auburn's last chance at LSU. Bradford closed out the ninth for his fourth save to move LSU closer to the Western Division crown.
Auburn got on the board first with back to back doubles in the second. Leading off the inning, Bianucci drilled a double off the monster in left field to give the Tigers a runner in scoring position. The red hot Sanders followed with a double to left center that easily scored Bianucci and put Auburn up 1-0. The hit extended Sanders' hitting streak to 18 games. That would be all though as Verdugo came back to retire the Tigers and keep the damage to just one.
With Dayton pitching well Auburn had a chance to extend the lead in the third as Mummey's one-out triple off the wall in right field looked to be just what the doctor ordered for the Auburn offense. A walk to Fletcher followed to put two on with one out for leading hitter Morris. Uncharacteristically Morris struck out for out two. A walk to Bianucci followed to load the bases, but a Sanders fly ball to right field left the bases loaded.
LSU got to Dayton in the top of the fourth as Jared Mitchell led off with a double to right field that Bianucci misplayed for an error. That allowed Mitchell to move to third. Dayton recovered to strike out the next two LSU hitters before Micah Gibbs singled to right field to score Mitchell and tied the game at one. D. J. LeMahieu then followed with a double to right to score Gibbs and put LSU up 2-1.
Auburn had a chance to even the score in the bottom of the fifth as Fletcher ripped a one-out pitch to the wall in left center for 17th double of the season. Again the Tigers failed to get a runner in scoring position home as a Morris fly ball and Bianucci pop up left the score LSU 2-1 heading to the sixth.
Once again Dayton would be victimized with two outs in the sixth. Blake Dean got the LSU rally started with a one-out single to right field and one out later scored on a double by LeMahieu to left field. Designated hitter Matt Clark then singled up the middle off Dayton to make it 4-1 LSU. Staked to a lead, Verdugo wouldn't make it out of the sixth, but he would get the victory to improve to 8-2 on the year. Dayton got the loss and ends his season at 7-2 overall.
Auburn and LSU will play game two of the series Friday night at 6 p.m. at Plainsman Park.