Commodores Strike Early To Take Down Auburn

Auburn fell to Vanderbilt Friday night for its fourth-straight opening series loss this season.

Nashville, Tenn.--Auburn struggles on Friday night continued against Vanderbilt as the Commodores got a grand slam from Connor Harrell in the second inning and four more runs in the third and never looked back in an 11-6 loss for the Tigers. Starter Cole Nelson had his second-straight short outing on a Friday night as Auburn falls to 23-12, 7-6 in SEC play.

"It's tough to get behind on Friday night and we put ourselves in a tough spot today," coach John Pawlowski said. "We've got to continue to make some adjustments. Hopefully the guys can flush this out of their system and be ready to go tomorrow. You want to get out of the gate good and have a competitive game. They put some good swings on it with the grand slam. On the road or at home, you get down in this league and it's tough. We need to come back with a better frame of mind and get out of the gate tomorrow."

The move to Friday night continues to be a struggle for Nelson as he was pounded by the Commodores in the loss. Lasting just two and one/third innings, Nelson allowed seven earned runs on six hits to put his team in another deep hole on a Friday night. Pawlowski said it's just a matter of making pitches for the big left-hander.

"I think it's just being able to make pitches in big situations," Pawlowski said. "When guys get on base you've got to bury that breaking ball or throw the fastball in. We've made a few mistakes. In this league those mistakes get magnified. We made a couple of other mistakes later in the ballgame. Twice we had 0-2 and gave up hits. We've got to execute pitches better. That's the issue with Cole, but he's a tough kid. He'll learn from it."

Things unraveled quickly for Nelson and the Tigers on this night as Andrew Giobbi led off the second inning with a single and just like that the rout was on. A walk to Jason Esposito and an infield single by Curt Casali loaded the bases with nobody out for Harrell. Jumping on the first pitch, he drove it over the right field wall for a grand slam. The blast gave the Commodores gave starter Sonny Gray an early 4-0 lead, but Auburn would answer back in the third.

Leading things off, designated hitter Kevin Patterson singled up the middle to open the top of the third, but then another base running error would hurt the Tigers. Third baseman Dan Gamache sliced one to left field and rounding second base to head for third, Patterson was thrown out for the first out of the inning. That left Gamache on second where he would later score on a two-out single from leadoff man Justin Fradejas. A Trent Mummey fly ball to left field was then misplayed, allowing the speedy Fradejas to come all the way around to score the second run of the inning.

Now back in the game at 4-2, Auburn was looking for some pitching to keep the Tigers in the game. Instead it was the opposite as the Commodores put things away early with four more runs in the third. They would get plenty of help from Auburn pitching as a leadoff walk followed by an Aaron Westlake single again put Nelson in trouble. He would recover to get Giobbi on a flyout to center to score a run, but that would be the last out of the game for the big lefty.

A single by Esposito put a pair of runners on board for Vanderbilt as Blatt came on in relief. Not helping his cause, he walked Casali to load the bases and then compounded his mistake with a walk to Harrell to score the second run of the inning. A single and a RBI groundout scored two more before the sophomore finally got out of the inning. Now trailing 8-2 against the best pitching staff in the league, Auburn had more than its work cut out on this night.

The Tigers tried to get back in the game in the sixth as Brian Fletcher walked to start the inning, but was erased on a fielder's choice off the bat of Hunter Morris. An error on a Casey McElroy ground ball gave Auburn a pair of runners on board with still one out. Catcher Tony Caldwell then struck out before a wild pitch moved to the runners to second and third with Patterson at the plate. A walk loaded the bases for Gamache and another wild pitch allowed Morris to score to cut the lead to 8-3. Another walk then loaded the bases, but Justin Hargett couldn't get it done as his ground ball kept the Tigers down five runs.

Pitching well for the Tigers since struggling in the third, Blatt allowed a two-out single to Westlake and Auburn's defense would prove to be his undoing as Gamache booted a ground ball to leave runners on second and third with Esposito coming to the plate. Making Auburn pay, he singled to center field to score both runners and make it 10-3 Commodores.

Ty Kelley came on in the bottom of the seventh for his first SEC action of the year and got a pair of strikeouts, but allowed a solo homer to make it an eight-run lead for Vanderbilt. He finished by pitching a scoreless eighth inning for an overall solid outing. A Fletcher RBI double and a two-run homer by Morris in the ninth finished off the night for Auburn as the Tigers fell 11-6.

Auburn will be looking to even the series at 2 p.m. on Saturday as the Tigers will face Vanderbilt ace Jack Armstrong (5-0, 3.43). The Tigers are listed as TBA with either Cory Luckie or Slade Smith getting the ball.

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