"For the most part, up until tonight, we had been defending very well," said Polk. "We just didn't make some plays. You can't fault anybody, the kids tried. We just didn't didn't defend the field that well."
The Bulldogs, after being blanked for four innings by AU starter Eric Brandon, erupted for five runs and a 5-1 lead in the fifth. Chad Henry lashed a bases-loaded, two-out double to score three runs and Matthew Brinson followed with a two-run blast over the leftfield wall.
"When we got the five runs in the fifth I felt pretty good with Paul on the mound," said MSU coach Ron Polk.
But the Bulldogs couldn't hold the lead. Auburn struck for two runs on a walk, three singles and an infield groundout in the fifth and parlayed a walk and back-to-back singles by Tug Hulett and Chuck Jeroloman to close to within a run at 5-4 in the sixth, ending Maholm's stint on the mound.
"(Maholm) walked four. I thought that was uncharacteristic of Paul," said Polk. "I thought that he was getting a little tired. When you throw 85 to 90 pitches, you start wearing down. That is why we made the decision to go with Papelbon in the seventh."
Jonathan Papelbon replaced Maholm in the seventh but quickly ran into problems. Papelbon hit the first batter he faced, Javon Moran, who then stole second and later scored the tying run on a single by Trent Pratt. A throwing error by Maniscalco and a fielding error on Schade's grounder at first base sent Pratt home with the got ahead run.
"(Papelbon) hit that first guy and they have three or four guys who can run a little bit," said Polk. "We didn't pitch well tonight and didn't play good defense."
Hulett capped a 3-for-4 night and Auburn's scoring in the eight inning, opening the frame with a single to left off Brian Owens, the third of four pitchers used by the Bulldogs. Hulett advanced a base on a balk by Owens, a sacrifice bunt and an infield groundout to second base.
Mike Mueller replaced AU starter Brandon with two out and a runner on base in the seventh. Mueller, who threw four pitches on the night, retired Brinson on a fly ball to centerfield. He earned the win when the Tigers took the lead in the bottom of the seventh. Steven Register retired the six batters he faced over the final two frames, four via strikeout, to preserve the lead and earn his first save.
"Register came in and showed me a big-league breaking ball," said Polk. "He showed me a lot of arm strength. He is a guy who has been injured most of the year."
Maholm, in his first no-decision appearance of the year, gave up four runs on seven hits and four walks while striking out five. Papelbon took the loss, allowing two runs and retiring just one of the four batters he faced in the seventh. Chris Young replaced Owens in the eighth and finished the game for MSU.
The teams meet again Saturday at 3 p.m. (CDT).
"We have a good group of guys and they will bounce back," said Polk. "I think we will compete (Saturday). Tanner Brock will go for us tomorrow and Colby Paxton, one of their better pitchers, will throw for them."
AUBURN 7, MISSISSIPPI STATE 5
MSU (22-14-1, 8-7 SEC) 000 050 000 - 5-7-4
AU (26-14, 8-8 SEC) 100 021 21x - 7-9-1
WP - Mike Mueller (2-1). LP - Jonathan Papelbon (2-3). SV - Steven Register (1). HR (MSU) Matthew Brinson (7). T - 2:32. ATT - 3,389.
Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com. You can contact him by emailing email@example.com.