"We didn't play at a high, championship level today," Auburn coach John Pawlowski said. "Against good teams at this time of the year, no matter who you play, you need to play at a high level. We certainly didn't do that today. We made mistakes that cost us the ballgame. I'm excited that the kids kept coming back and Hunter got us back in the ballgame, but it just wasn't meant to be. Ole Miss played a solid game and they deserved to win today."
Offensively the Tigers got much better production with 10 hits, including home runs from Tony Caldwell and Hunter Morris, but it wasn't enough to overcome an awful night in the field and some struggles on the mound as well. Morris said it's a tough way to go out not playing good baseball.
"There were a number of things that happened," Morris said after hitting his SEC leading 21st home run. "We didn't execute defensively. I don't know how many runs that we gave up were earned today (six of 10), but it probably wasn't much. Certainly enough for us to win the ballgame. We just have to battle and come back and be ready to play next week. Today was obviously disappointing, but the maturity level is there and we'll bounce back and be ready."
The biggest problem on Friday night was the lack of defense from the Tigers. A team that had improved by leaps and bounds over the last few weeks of the regular season in the field, Auburn committed five errors and had several more that could have been ruled errors as well. Caldwell said it was disappointing to play that way in the loss.
"We had five errors tonight and that's unusual," Caldwell said. "I think that's the most we've had all year long. It doesn't matter about the conditions. I think we're a better team than how we played and showed tonight. We just have to leave it behind us and come back next week ready to play."
Following a rain delay of almost two hours, the teams battled into the late innings tied up. With the game tied at seven in the top of the ninth inning, Auburn got perhaps its only break of the night and Wes Gilmer was the recipient. Gilmer replaced Justin Hargett at second after Trent Mummey pinch hit for Hargett in the eighth.
A one-out walk to Kevin Mort brought catcher Matt Hamblin to the plate trying to break open the contest for the Rebels. Breaking on a ball up the middle, Gilmer attempted to field it but it hit off the heel of his glove. The ball bounced right to Casey McElroy on the bag at shortstop where he threw to first to complete the double play.
In the 10th the Tigers again faced trouble as a one-out walk by relief pitcher Sean Ray signaled the end of his day in favor of junior Bradley Hendrix. After getting a strikeout, Hendrix allowed a single with two strikes to Matt Snyder to bring Hashman to the plate. Grooving a pitch to the left fielder, Hendrix allowed a three-run homer over the left field wall to put the Rebels up 10-7 and they would go on to the victory as closer Brett Huber finished off the Tigers for his 12th save of the year.
Creede Simpson played well at the SEC Tournament after being forced into action because of injuries.
Things didn't start too well either as, after struggling in the first, Auburn starter Cole Nelson wouldn't be as fortunate in the second as Alex Yarbrough led off with a double over the head of Caldwell in left field. Caldwell started in place of Brian Fletcher, who was held out because of a bruised hand. Getting the next hitter on strikes, Nelson got a bad break as Mort's ground ball to short was fielded in the hole by McElroy, but his throw to short was low for the infield single.
Another walk by Nelson, his third of the game, loaded the bases for Ferguson and this time he delivered a single to left. The hit scored a pair of runners for the Rebels for the early 2-0 lead. Miller then hit a smash that Dan Gamache made a diving stop on. Throwing to second, he retired the runner leaving men on first and third with two outs and Smith at the plate. Nelson recovered to get a pop up to end the inning, but 51 pitches later the Tigers were down by two.
In the bottom of the second the Tigers got something going as Ryan Jenkins singled up the middle with one out. With two outs Creede Simpson came to the plate hoping to deliver again after homering on Thursday. Getting a pitch away, Simpson went to right field for a double that Smith misplayed. Running on the full count pitch, Jenkins scored all the way from first and Simpson advanced to third. Despite a strikeout by Justin Hargett, Auburn was on the board now trailing 2-1.
The second time around proved to pay dividends again for the Rebels in the third, but Nelson hurt himself to get it started as with one out he hit Hashman to get things started. Following a pop up to first he got ahead 1-2 on Mike Snyder. With Hashman running at first, Snyder singled to right field. The throw from Justin Fradejas came to second base and Hashman never stopped running. He scored easily on the play to put the Rebels back in front by two.
Auburn got back even in the bottom of the third thanks to one swing of the bat from Caldwell. Following a leadoff single by Fradejas and a Gamache put out, Caldwell got a pitch to drive and didn't miss it. His blast barely cleared the left field wall for a home run to tie the game, but the Tigers weren't done. A single by Morris, Patterson hit by a pitch and a walk to Jenkins loaded the bases with still just one out. Unfortunately it wasn't Auburn's night as McElroy and Simpson struck out to end the threat with the game tied at three.
Once again Auburn would be in a giving mood in the top of the fourth to allow the Rebels to pull back in front. Ferguson led off with a single to left field off Nelson and after a pop up it appeared the Tigers would escape damage as Ferguson left way too early from first base attempting to steal second. Failing to see the runner until late, Nelson turned and threw low to Hargett at second base, allowing Ferguson to slide in safely. Following a groundout to shortstop to move to third, a wild pitch scored the Ole Miss leadoff hitter to put the Rebels back in front 4-3. Slade Smith came on to finish the inning, but the damage was done.
Caldwell continued his hot hitting as he opened the bottom of the fifth with a single to right field. Ole Miss right fielder David Phillips came up throwing on the play and his throw sailed through the infield and all the way to the backstop. Heads up, Caldwell motored all the way to third base on the error. Following a Morris pop up, pinch hitter Justin Bryant came to the plate and lifted a fly ball just deep enough to right field to score Caldwell from third and make it a 4-4 game.
With Smith pitching exceptionally well the Tigers fell apart in the seventh inning defensively to all but give the game away. After getting the first hitter on strikes, Smith got Hashman to hit a lazy fly ball to left field. Playing in his first game back in the outfield since Mummey's return halfway through the season, Caldwell misplayed the ball before dropping it completely. The error gave the Rebels some life against Smith as Yarbrough singled up the middle to follow the error.
On the run, Hashman tried for third and Simpson's throw hit him in the back and bounced away. Gamache ran it down, but his throw to the plate was high allowing the run to score. The shaky defense continued to haunt the Tigers as with a runner on third and the infield in, Phillips hit a smash that snuck through Hargett at second base. Another single followed to score the third Rebel run of the inning and make it 7-4.
The Tigers refused to die though as a one-out walk to Gamache and a single by Caldwell brought Morris to the plate with a chance to do some damage. With the wind blowing out hard to right field, the junior first baseman lifted one high and deep and over the right field wall for a three-run shot to tie the game at seven.
That gave Auburn some life for a brief moment, but in the end though it was a three-run shot by the Rebels that was the difference in the game.
Caldwell led the Tigers with three hits and a pair of RBI while Morris added two hits and three runs batted in. On the mound Smith was solid as he allowed three unearned runs on three hits in three and one/third innings. Michael Hurst pitched two/thirds of scoreless baseball while Ray allowed one earned run in one and two/thirds innings.
Auburn now waits for a possible host site announcement from the NCAA on Sunday afternoon with the full 64-team field to be announced on Monday at 11:30 a.m. on ESPN. The Tigers will enter the tournament with a record of 40-19 overall.