Auburn's SEC Tournament hopes have been all but dashed this weekend thanks to the suddenly hot Vanderbilt Commodores and the equally cold Georgia Bulldogs. Swept at home last weekend by Florida, Georgia has dropped the first two games at home to the Commodores and eight in a row overall. With the two wins Vandy moves to 12-13 in SEC play. An Auburn loss or a Vandy win from this point forward would secure the Tigers' place out of Hoover for the sixth consecutive season.
This game was all pitching early, but Auburn would find some late offense to tie the game and send it to extra innings. In the 10th Justin Hargett led off with a bunt single and moved to second when Trent Mummey was hit by pitch. Following a sacrifice bunt, Ben Jones delivered a sacrifice fly to score Hargett and put Auburn up 5-4.
The lead would last mere minutes though as the Wildcats answered back against Auburn closer Austin Hubbard. Pitching a scoreless ninth, Hubbard walked the leadoff hitter in the 10th before back to back singles by Chris Bisson and Gunner Glad tied the game at five. A sacrifice bunt then moved the runners into scoring position with just one out. Playing the percentages, Auburn walked a runner to load the bases and put the force play on, but the DH turned closer Braden Kapetyn singled to end the game and give Auburn its eighth straight loss.
"You've got to have a short-term memory," coach John Pawlowski said. "We've got another ballgame to play. I thought we did a good job of battling back after being down 3-0 with only one hit against a very good pitcher. We got back in the ballgame and made some mistakes. We forced a couple of things that hurt us and gave them a couple of runs. Consequently that was the ballgame."
Game one was a pitcher's duel as Jacobs and Kentucky's James Paxton locked horns in a good one to start the long day. Through five innings both teams had just one hit with each runner being erased on a double play. Things would change though in the bottom of the sixth as the Wildcats finally made Jacobs pay for being a little wild on the mound.
Facing the number nine hitter to start the inning, Jacobs fell behind before giving up a single to Bryan Rose. Leadoff man Chad Wright then bunted the runner over for the heart of the Kentucky order. That proved to be a tough spot for Jacobs as he fell behind Andy Burns before giving up a double that scored Rose for the game's first run.
Jacobs came back to get Bisson on a strikeout, but again the walk would bite Jacobs as his free pass to Glad brought Chris Wade to the plate with a runner in scoring position. His single on a 1-2 pitch scored the second run and brought Jacobs' day to a close. Reliever Bradley Hendrix came on and immediately gave up a single to Keenan Wiley for the third run of the inning. That would be it for the Wildcats, but the damage was done.
The third time through the order against Paxton, Auburn got its second hit of the game as Hargett's infield single opened the seventh. Following a strikeout by Mummey, who had Auburn's only other hit of the game, Brian Fletcher popped up for out number two. Senior Jones followed with a double to left-center that put two in scoring position for Tony Caldwell with two outs. A walk to the sophomore catcher loaded the bases for freshman shortstop Casey McElroy and he followed suit with a walk of his own to put Auburn on the board. The back-to-back walks were just the 18th and 19th of the season issued by Paxton.
Auburn would make him pay in a big way as sophomore Wes Gilmer, in the starting lineup because of a suspension to Hunter Morris for breaking a team rule, laced a double to right field off the base of the wall. Both Jones and Caldwell would score to tie the game at three. Pinch hitter Bradley Ray struck out to end the inning with Auburn and Kentucky knotted at three.
Just like they've done all season, the Tigers struggled after a big inning as Marcus Nidiffer singled to start the bottom of the seventh and with one out a walk to Wright on four pitches moved him to second. That's when the strangeness would occur. With two balls a Hendrix pitch missed outside, but the batter Burns made a move towards first as if he had been walked. That sent both runners in motion as well, making for an easy play at third base for Caldwell. However, his throw was in the dirt and bounced into left field. The error scored Nidiffer to put Kentucky back in front 4-3.
That's how things would stay until the ninth. With Paxton still in the game, Brian Fletcher walked to open the inning. Enter reliever Logan Donnell, who immediately struck out Jones, but things would unravel quickly after that as he hit Caldwell and gave up a single to McElroy to load the bases with still one out.
Kapetyn came on to face Gilmer and the sophomore again came through as his ground ball scored Fletcher to tie the game. A walk to Chezz McCann loaded the bases once again for the Tigers, but Kevin Patterson struck out to end the inning. That set the stage for the dramatics in the 10th as Kentucky won by scoring two runs in the 10th inning.
Auburn finished with just six hits on the day as Hargett had two to lead the way. On the mound Jacobs had a very good day for the Tigers, allowing three runs on four hits in five and two/thirds innings.
Auburn and Kentucky play game two of the series Saturday night at 6 p.m. central time.