"You have to give credit to Clemson's pitcher Harman," Auburn coach John Pawlowski said. "He did a great job. He certainly kept us off balance all day long and made some big pitches. I thought that was the biggest difference, but you can't say enough about the job that Grant Dayton did. He gave us a chance and that's what we ask of our starters."
The loss came despite a performance worthy of praise for Auburn junior Grant Dayton. Throwing 38 pitches and giving up three runs in the first inning, he settled down and lasted into the eighth inning before giving way to Sean Ray. In seven and two/thirds innings Dayton allowed four earned runs on seven hits and struck out nine, six coming after the fourth inning.
"Early in the game I was struggling with my fastball command," Dayton said. "I just didn't have it and in the first inning I made a couple of mistakes. It showed on the scoreboard. After that I settled in a little bit and was able to get my fastball where I wanted it."
Dayton's only problem was he was up against Harman. Throwing the first complete game of his career, the left-hander allowed just two solo home runs to the Tigers on five hits. He struck out eight and walked just one while throwing 129 pitches. Auburn's Hunter Morris said Harman just did a great job of keeping Auburn off balance all night.
"He went out and did a great job," Morris said. "From the first pitch of the ballgame he mixed and kept us off balance. He was missing the barrel. The first through the ninth inning he did a great job. I compare it to the start that Jimmy Nelson (Alabama pitcher) had against us in the SEC Tournament. He mixed and hit his spots and did a great job of keeping us off the boards."
Unfortunately for Auburn it has become an all to familiar theme the last two weeks. Averaging 9.4 runs and hitting .354 as a team in 56 games in the regular season, Auburn has been a much different team since wrapping up the Western Division title with a thumping of Ole Miss on Sunday in Oxford. Since that game Auburn is hitting just .233 and averaging 4.4 runs in five games. Morris said nothing has changed with the way they are doing things other than the results.
"Our offensive approach has not changed," Morris said. "Some guys have had some good outings, but it's our job to keep bouncing back and find a way to score runs. Grant Dayton did a great job of keeping us in that ballgame after that first inning. He pitched very well through the eighth and our offense never could get anything going."
Clemson didn't have that problem early as it continued what it started on Friday by jumping all over Dayton in the first. Will Lamb got things started innocently enough with an infield single that he barely beat out. Mike Freeman left little doubt with his swing though as he hit a towering fly ball that just crept over the wall in right field. It was his eighth home run of the season and put Clemson up 2-0. Following a fly ball out, Dayton walked Kyle Parker. That proved to be a big play as he got to second on a groundout and scored on a Andy Hinson single to right field.
With Harman dealing on the mound Clemson came to the plate in the top of the fourth up 3-0 and looking for more. Up with one out, freshman Richie Shaffer just missed a home run as his fly ball to left field hit off the wall just a few feet from going out of the park. Standing on second, Shaffer scored moments late when Wilson Boyd followed suit with a double of his own to left field. With two outs in the inning Lamb hit a smash that Auburn third baseman Dan Gamache caught at third base in self defense. With plenty of time, he rushed a throw to first base that skipped past Morris and down the right field line. That allowed Boyd to score from second and make it 5-0 Clemson.
Auburn finally got its first hit in the bottom of the fifth inning and it was a big one. With one out in the inning designated hitter Caldwell got a breaking ball and yanked it over the left field wall for his 10th home run of the season. The blast made the score 5-1 as Dayton went back out in the sixth hoping to keep his offense close.
After having just two strikeouts in the first four innings, Dayton began to find his rhythm with a pair of strikeouts in the fifth inning and striking out the side in the sixth. Auburn looked as if it would respond as Justin Fradejas singled to right field to get the crowd into game. Following a Trent Mummey pop up, Brian Fletcher smoked a ball into the gap in right-center. Running full speed, Boyd made a leaping grab as he smashed into the outfield wall. The play in essence took the steam out of Auburn's sails.
Following another three-up and three-down inning for Dayton in the seventh the Tigers got something going in the bottom of the inning as Morris was hit by a Harman pitch. The rally was short lived though as a fly ball outs by Caldwell and Ryan Jenkins and a strikeout of Gamache sent the game to the eighth with Auburn still down 5-1.
Coming in for Justin Hargett earlier in the game, junior Justin Bryant singled to right field with one out in the eighth inning to bring the top of the order to the plate to face Harman. Attempting to bunt his way on, Fradejas appeared to be hit by an inside pitch only to have Randy Bruns call him back to the plate. That drew the ire of Pawlowski who ran in to argue the call. Deciding to take a look at the arm of Fradejas, the umpire ruled he was hit by a pitch. That brought Leggett out who argued the call to no avail. Just like he had done all night Harman got out of the jam as he struck out Mummey and Fletcher to end the threat.
Morris added his 22nd home run of the season in the ninth to make the final score 5-2. That leads the SEC and ties Todd Faulkner for the single-season Auburn record. Auburn now moves to the loser's bracket where the Tigers will face Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles advanced after pummeling Jacksonville State 19-6 earlier on Saturday. The first pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m. with the winner turning around to face Clemson at 5 p.m.