Auburn Takes Series Opener From Bulldogs, 9-6

AUBURN, Ala. - A six-run first inning proved too much for the Mississippi State baseball team to overcome Friday night. The Bulldogs dropped a 9-6 decision to Auburn in the opening game of a weekend Southeastern Conference series played at AU's Plainsman Park.

With the victory, Auburn improved to 31-15 overall and 13-9 in league play. The Tigers will trail the winner of Friday night's Ole Miss-Arkansas game by two games in the Western Division standings. MSU saw its losing streak reach nine games, as the Bulldogs slipped to 20-26 and 5-17.

Auburn manufactured all of the offense it needed Friday night by scoring six times off seven base hits in the first inning. The offensive uprising all came off M-State starter Tyler Whitney, who hung tough and worked seven effective innings after the disastrous first.

In the first inning, Justin Fradejas started things with a leadoff single. A ground ball out forced Fradejas but reached Trent Mummey. A hit by Brian Fletcher and a hit batsman of Hunter Morris loaded the bases. Designated hitter Tony Caldwell followed with a two-run single up the middle. Casey McElroy followed with his fourth home run of the year - a towering three-run shot off the base of the scoreboard in left center.

Ryan Jenkins followed with a double and Wes Gilmer connected for a single. After a pop-up, Fradejas followed with his second hit of the inning to bring Jenkins home with the final run of that frame.

Whitney was touched for another pair of hits - including an RBI-single by Jenkins - in the second inning. After that, the senior left-hander retired nine of the next ten batters he faced.

The Bulldogs then dented the scoreboard with three runs in the sixth inning. Sam Frost began that inning with a double to right center. Nick Vickerson drew a walk before the first out of the inning. A walk to Connor Powers loaded the bases. Russ Sneed followed with an RBI-single. Jaron Shepherd connected for a two-run double down the right field line. However, the Bulldogs stranded Sneed at third base and Shepherd at second base in that at-bat.

Auburn answered with a critical insurance score in the home half of the sixth inning.

Not deterred, the Maroon and White got right back after it, scrapping for three unearned runs in the top half of the eighth inning. With one out, Connor Powers reached on an infield error. Sneed then drew a walk before Shepherd laced his second double of the game - this time down the left field line. Shepherd's hit scored Powers, while a dropped pop-up on the back of the outfield grass with two outs scored both Sneed and Shepherd.

For Auburn, Morris closed the scoring with his 16th home run of the season - a monster shot over the right field bullpen area in the home half of the eighth inning.

Whitney (0-3) threw the Bulldogs' third complete game of the season and the second of his career. He allowed 16 hits and nine runs (all earned) in a career-best eight innings, with five strikeouts and no walks. Whitney faced 42 total batters and threw 135 pitches.

For Auburn, Fradejas, Fletcher, Caldwell and McElroy each had three hits. McElroy had a team-high three RBIs. Starting pitcher Cory Luckie (6-2) worked 5.1 innings to pick up the win. Sean Ray, Bradley Hendrix and Austin Hubbard followed in relief for the Tigers.

Sneed and Shepherd each had multiple hits to highlight MSU's seven-hit attack. Shepherd also had his second three-RBI game of the season.

The series resumes with a 3 p.m. start Saturday. MSU is scheduled to start freshman right-hander Chris Stratton (4-3, 5.64 ERA), while the Auburn probable starter has not been announced. The series finale is set for 1 p.m. Sunday.

The Bulldogs then come home for their final four-game homestand of the season. That stretch starts with Northwestern State at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday followed by a three-game league series with Vanderbilt next weekend at Dudy Noble Field.

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