The story of the night was Auburn's pitching as starter Cory Luckie allowed just one run on four hits in four innings, but was taken out following a single in the top of the fifth. The Tigers' bullpen failed to hold the four-run lead from that point forward as reliever Michael Hurst allowed five earned runs on four hits in just one and one/third innings to get the loss. Fellow reliever Zach Blatt allowed a pair of earned runs on four hits in two and one/third innings making for a tough night for the Auburn bullpen.
"Cory Luckie went out there and we talked about how they were going to battle him with two strikes," coach John Pawlowski said. "They made him throw a lot of pitches with a lot of deep counts. Cory did a good job. He gave us a chance. I thought there were two halves of that baseball game. You look at the first half and we did some really positive things. In the second half we just made one mistake here or there and they capitalized on that. Good teams do that."
On the other side Arkansas starter Drew Smyly overcame a rough start to earn a complete game win, allowing four runs on eight hits and striking out nine Auburn hitters. The biggest key for him is he didn't walk a single Auburn batter, making the Tigers earn everything they got.
"That's a quality Friday night guy," Pawlowski said. "He's not undefeated for any reason other than he knows how to pitch. He went out there and did exactly what we thought he would do. He made pitches when he needed to. I thought we took a lot of swings where we didn't barrel up some balls. He pitched in a lot and did a good job. Hat's off to him."
It was a pitcher's duel for the first two innings with each team getting just one hit before Auburn would finally do something about that in the top of the third thanks to some shaky defense by the Razorbacks. Ryan Jenkins led off by reaching on an error by the shortstop and moved into scoring position after an error by Smyly allowed Justin Hargett to reach base. Following a Justin Fradejas strikeout, Trent Mummey laced a single to right field, but the ball was hit too hard to score Jenkins which loaded the bases for the heart of the Auburn order.
Brian Fletcher was unable to push a run across though as he popped up to second base for out number two. That brought Hunter Morris to the plate. Auburn's leading hitter overall and in SEC play, the junior first baseman came through with a single to score two runs and give Luckie a cushion to work with.
The score would remain 2-0 Auburn as the Razorbacks came to bat in the bottom of the fourth. Luckie quickly got the first two outs of the inning, but Monk Kreder and Travis Sample had back to back singles to give Arkansas some life offensively. Things looked even better for the home team as James McCann reached on an error by Auburn shortstop Casey McElroy, but Kreder was caught napping rounding third by Wes Gilmer to end the threat with Auburn up two.
In the fifth the Tigers would extend the lead thanks to the top of the batting order. Reaching on a bunt single to first base, Fradejas put the pressure on Smyly with Mummey coming to the plate and it paid off for Auburn. On fire since his return from an injury, Mummey homered to right field for his eighth of the season in just his 15th game. Now up 4-0, Auburn turned things over to Luckie to see if the sophomore could finish things off.
Unfortunately he didn't get that chance as a single to lead off the bottom of the fifth was the end of the night for him as Hurst came on in relief. He immediately got the first two hitters he faced before a two-out single by Zack Cox put runners on first and third for Brett Eibner. Already with 14 homers on the season, Eibner added to his total with a blast to left field. The three-run shot cut Auburn's lead down to 4-3. Hurst recovered to get the final out of the inning, but just like that the Razorbacks were back in business. Pawlowski said that one swing set the tone for the rest of the game in his opinion.
"We're up 4-0 and they hit a three-run home run and are back in the ballgame just like that," Pawlowski said. "Then I thought the game got sloppy there at the end and it goes from a 6-4 ballgame and we mishandle a couple of balls and are late and out of position and they open it up."
It only took one more inning for Arkansas to complete the comeback as a leadoff walk to Kreder set the table for the Razorbacks. Following a pop up, McCann singled to bring number nine hitter Matt Reynolds to the plate. His double down the right field line scored Kreder to tie the game and left runners in scoring position for the top of the order. That would be all for Hurst as Zach Blatt came on to try to keep the game tied.
Auburn struggles in the bullpen came back in a rough way on this night as Collin Kuhn greeted Blatt with a single to center field. The base hit scored both runners and gave the Razorbacks a 6-4 advantage. It was the 10th hit for Arkansas and sixth in the last two innings. Blatt recovered to get a double play to end the inning, but the damage was done. Now trailing by two, Auburn was hoping for the comeback that has been such a big part of their season to this point. However on this night Smyly was just too much as he shut down the Tigers the rest of the way to get his seventh win of the season.
Arkansas added more runs to play with in the eighth inning off Blatt as McCann's single got the ball rolling for the Razorbacks. After Blatt hit a batter, a sacrifice bunt put a pair of runners in scoring position and from that point forward the Tigers fell apart as a passed ball scored the first run. An error on Blatt then allowed the second run to score. A single pushed across run three for the 9-4 lead. Smyly closed things out in the ninth to give his team the win.
Game two is scheduled for 2 p.m. on Saturday with Auburn listed as TBA on the mound. Either junior Cole Nelson (5-3, 5.52 ERA) or freshman Slade Smith (1-0, 4.54) is expected to get the start for the Tigers against freshman Randall Fant (3-0, 2.60) for Arkansas.