Falling behind 6-0, Auburn battled back to make it a game, but just couldn't come up with the plays to take the win. While the Tigers didn't come up with the victory it wasn't because they didn't get a great pitching performance. Starter Grant Dayton allowed six runs in just two innings of work, but reliever Sean Ray came on and was dominant as he allowed just one hit and no runs in seven innings. Coach John Pawlowski said it was just a case of getting behind too much too early.
"Grant left a few balls up and they jumped on them and executed some good swings," Pawlowski said. "Consequently we were down 6-0 at that point. Sean Ray did a great job for us. He finished the game for us and gave us a chance. They jumped out early and we never could get anything going."
Now 8-18 in league play Auburn is mathematically eliminated from SEC Tournament contention as South Carolina defeated Tennessee on Saturday to improve to 13-13 in SEC play while Vanderbilt beat Georgia for the second time on the weekend and is firmly in eighth place at 12-13.
It didn't take long for the Wildcats to get to Dayton as they touched up the sophomore for three runs in the first thanks to some shaky defense by the Tigers. Leadoff man Chad Wright reached on an error by Justin Hargett at second base and following a strikeout moved to third on an error by Auburn catcher Tony Caldwell as his throw to second on a steal attempt bounced into left field. An infield single by Chris Bisson scored Wright easily from third to get Kentucky on the board, but they weren't done as Gunner Glad's two-run shot to right field on the next pitch made it 3-0 Kentucky.
Kentucky added two more runs in the second inning to push the lead to five before the Wildcats would put an end to Dayton's day in the third. Leading off the inning, Chris Wade hit a blast to left field to make it 6-0. Dayton followed by hitting Marcus Nidiffer with a pitch, but Ray came on and immediately got a double play to get out of the inning.
Pitching just eight innings on the season coming into the game, Ray cruised through the sixth inning to keep the Tigers within striking distance, giving his offense a chance to finally get going against Rusin. Leading off the seventh, Hargett reached on an infield single. One out later he moved to second as Brian Fletcher was hit by a pitch. A walk to Hunter Morris then loaded the bases for Ben Jones.
The senior continued his strong season with a sharp single to center field. The Kentucky fielder made a diving attempt at the ball, forcing Fletcher to get a late start at second, but scoring Hargett to get Auburn on the board. Following a strikeout, Casey McElroy walked to force home Fletcher with the second run. That would be all though as Tony Caldwell's ground ball brought the rally to a close with Auburn still down 6-2.
A very questionable non-call by the umpire kept the Tigers from cutting even more into the lead in the eighth. With one out Hargett doubled and Trent Mummey walked to give the Tigers some life. Following a Fletcher groundout, Morris singled to left field to easily score Hargett, but Mummey had to change his running lane after getting cut off by the Kentucky third baseman. That forced him to slip and fall before he could round third base and head for home. Pawlowski argued that it was interference, but to no avail. A Jones fly ball brought the inning to a close with Auburn down 6-3.
That's how things would finish as Rusin threw 130 pitches for his fourth complete game of the season. Both teams had six hits on the day as Hargett again led the Tigers with two hits while Bisson and Glad both had two hits for four of Kentucky's six on the day.
Auburn and Kentucky will play the final game of the three-game series Sunday at noon central time. True freshman Dexter Price will get the start for the Tigers as they try to salvage a win heading into the final week of the season.