BY AARON BRENNER | firstname.lastname@example.org
AUBURN, Ala. – Going hitless in the first six innings isn’t the greatest gameplan for winning baseball games, especially against the No. 2 team in the country.
Auburn (13-5, 0-2 SEC) has found that out in its first two games of the SEC season, after getting trounced 8-1 by Vanderbilt (18-2, 2-0) Saturday afternoon with 3,027 in attendance at Plainsman Park.
Tigers starter Michael O’Neal did his part, running into trouble in the sixth inning but providing his fourth consecutive quality start in his typical quick-paced fashion.
“He’s done a very good job for us,” Auburn coach John Pawlowski said. “Again, today, he gave us a chance to win. We like the way he’s been throwing the ball. Another very good outing for him – unfortunately, we weren’t able to give him any type of support.”
The Pacelli and Chattahoochee Valley product fell to 4-1 on the year, going six-plus innings and allowing three earned runs on three hits on just 65 pitches.
“Felt good. That’s a very good club over there,” O’Neal said. “Wanted to go seven innings, only went six today, so that’s a little bit of a disappointment.”
O’Neal himself was perfect the first time through the Commodores’ order, and got himself out of a fourth-inning jam when No. 3 hitter Conrad Gregor lined into a double play. However, an RBI triple by designated hitter Rhett Wiseman and subsequent sacrifice fly by shortstop Joel McKeithan gave Vandy a 2-0 lead in the fifth.
“I just tried to keep the game close,” O’Neal said, “tried to make it so we could make it competitive.”
No dice, since Auburn’s bats again needed more time than desired to warm up. Vandy starter Tyler Beede, a former first-round MLB draft pick, was threatening for a no-hitter until Damek Tomscha’s one-out single in the seventh, the same juncture at which Ryan Tella snuffed Kevin Ziomek’s no-no bid Friday night.
The Tigers’ hitters in the first six innings, Friday and Saturday combined, are 0-for-33.
“I know the guys are frustrated,” Pawlowski said. “We had guys in scoring position – unfortunately, we weren’t able to come up with a big hit in that situation. Two days in a row, we just couldn’t get anything going offensively early.”
Beede and his three relievers were less than controlled Saturday, issuing nine walks (six by Beede). However, the Tigers stranded 11 runners, the eighth time this year in 18 games they’ve left 10 or more men on base.
Tomscha walked with the bases loaded in the eighth, scoring Jordan Ebert for Auburn’s only run.
Left-handed reliever Conner Kendrick, carrying a 0.00 ERA into Saturday’s game in 16.1 innings pitched, surrendered two earned runs along with an inherited run, increasing his ERA to 1.02.
The Commodores go for the sweep Sunday at 2 p.m. ET, when Philip Pfeifer (2-0, 1.32) battles Auburn righty Rocky McCord (2-0, 3.44).
“You always want to find a way to come out of the first weekend with a win,” Pawlowski said. “It is a big game for us. Hopefully we can get some early momentum, and that will carry over throughout the game.”
- Tella struck out three times Saturday, while leadoff hitter Jackson Burgreen walked in all three of his plate appearances.
- Wiseman and McKeithan, Vanderbilt’s 7-8 hitters, were 3-for-5 with five runs batted in. Left fielder Jack Lupo also drove in a pair.
- Vanderbilt has all six extra-base hits in the series so far.