Nelson Mows Down Tigers In SEC Opener

Auburn will have to come out of the loser's bracket at the SEC Tournament after the Tigers fell to Alabama 7-1 on Wednesday.

Hoover, Ala.--Auburn's offense got all the attention coming into Wednesday's opening game against Alabama (35-21), but it was Crimson Tide starting pitcher Jimmy Nelson that proved to be the difference as he shut down the Tigers in a 7-1 victory in the first round of the SEC Tournament at Regions Park. Pitching back-to-back complete games in wins over Ole Miss and Tennessee the last two weekends, Nelson made it three in a row as he held the Tigers to just five hits in the loss.

Auburn (39-18) now will face the loser of Ole Miss-South Carolina on Thursday morning at 9:30 a.m. Hoping to get off to a good start in the tournament and make a run at the crown, the Tigers instead ran into a buzz saw in Nelson said head coach John Pawlowski.

"When you sit back and look at the game and how it transpired I thought Nelson was outstanding for Alabama," Pawlowski said. "We never really had a chance to get anything going. I think we had one leadoff guy in the inning we scored. Dan Gamache had a leadoff double. I thought he threw extremely well. You have to tip your hat to him. I thought our kids were ready to play, we just couldn't get anything going."

The top hitting team in the SEC, Auburn had only been shut down a few times this season and Nelson accomplished that feat in dominating fashion on Wednesday. SEC Player of the Year Hunter Morris was 0-4 in the game as the Tigers had just five total hits. He said Nelson just did a great job of keeping them off balance and that was the difference.

"He did a great job today from pitch one of mixing his pitches, working down in the zone, and keeping us off balance," Morris said. "He had quality stuff. You've got to tip your hat to him. Even when we had some better swings they were able to play defense and come up with some big plays. He was able to keep the ball on the ground. He did a good job beating us today."

Cory Luckie pitched well, but not well enough in the loss.

On the mound Auburn starter Cory Luckie wasn't chopped liver as he allowed just one earned run in six and two/thirds innings. He struck out six and walked just two as he fell to 6-4 on the season. He said while he pitched well, it wasn't good enough to get the win.

"I really had all three pitches working," Luckie said. "I ran into a little trouble in the fourth inning when I lost my curveball a little bit. It's a tough loss and a tough way to lose. You have to give credit to Jimmy. He did a great job. You can't expect our guys to come out there and score 10 runs every game. We're going to have our bad games here or there but we'll be ready tomorrow."

Scoreless through two, Auburn got on the board first in the bottom of the third inning as third baseman Gamache ripped one off the top of the wall in center field and cruised into second base with a double. The Tigers then decided to play small ball as Justin Hargett bunted Gamache to third base and Justin Fradejas finished it off with a perfect squeeze bunt to score the runner from third. Leading 1-0, Luckie would run into trouble in the fourth with some of it self-inflicted and some caused by an error.

After getting the first hitter, Luckie walked Clay Jones to start the ball rolling for the Crimson Tide. He appeared to get out of the inning as David Kindred hit a perfect double-play ball towards Hargett at second base, but the ball skipped by the junior and into right field. One out later another walk, this one to Jon Kelton, loaded the bases for Andrew Miller. Getting behind in the count, Luckie had to groove a pitch and Miller made him pay with a single to right field. The hit scored a pair of runs and gave Nelson a 2-1 lead to work with.

That's the way things would stay until the top of the seventh when the Crimson Tide finally knocked Luckie out of the game. Allowing just four hits heading into the inning, the sophomore retired the first two batters before catcher Brock Bennett hit a liner into left field that Brian Fletcher made a diving attempt for, coming up just short. The ball bounced away for a double to bring Taylor Dugas to the plate. Reaching on a bunt single his last time up, Dugas roped a triple over the head of Fradejas in right field to easily score Bennett and make it 3-1 Alabama. Bradley Hendrix came on in relief of Luckie to face Rutledge and got him to pop out to Mummey in center field for the third out, but Auburn now had its back to the wall against Alabama.

A view of the crowd at Regions Park for Wednesday's game.

The Crimson Tide continued to get after the Tigers in the eighth as Jones launched a double deep off the wall in right field to bring Kindred to the plate looking to extend the Alabama lead. Hendrix got a strikeout, but wouldn't get out of the inning as Jake Smith's double to left made it 4-1 Crimson Tide.

Auburn's bullpen woes came back to hurt the Tigers in the ninth inning as a one-out single by Bennett off Hendrix and a walk brought Zach Blatt into the game for the Tigers. He hit the first man he faced to load the bases and then walked Jones to force home a run for a 5-1 lead. A single by Kindred followed to score two more and make it a 7-1 advantage for Nelson to play with. He finished things off in the ninth for his eighth win of the season.

The Tigers will now face the loser of Ole Miss-South Carolina at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday. Junior Grant Dayton will get the start for Auburn in a move that Pawlowski said they have been planning for since going to Oxford last weekend to face the Rebels.

"We're going to throw Grant tomorrow," Pawlowski said. "Regardless of who we play tomorrow whether it's Ole Miss or South Carolina we're going to throw Grant. He's certainly a guy we're confident behind and we want him on the mound."

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