BY AARON BRENNER | firstname.lastname@example.org
AUBURN, Ala. – Pressing to avoid a sweep, the day began with bad baseball on the part of the home team.
Auburn’s starting pitcher couldn’t close out the second inning. The defense compounded the issue with a few unforced errors, and again situational hitting evaded the Tigers.
A furious rally encouraged its head coach, but ultimately Auburn came out on the wrong end of a sweep to open SEC baseball season, capped by No. 2 Vanderbilt’s 8-6 victory Sunday with 2,650 in attendance at Plainsman Park.
The Commodores led 7-1 midway through the fourth.
“We talked about the importance of getting out of the gates,” Pawlowski said. “We’ve done a very good job of that so far this year – unfortunately today, that kind of set the table.”
The Tigers fought back, bringing the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the ninth after Ryan Tella’s 2-out double, but Damek Tomscha poked a lazy fly ball to center to seal the sweep for Vandy (19-2, 3-0 SEC.)
“I was very encouraged by the way we settled in and gave our team a chance to come back,” Pawlowski said. “The discouraging thing, obviously, it’s a tough way to open up SEC play. Lots of baseball yet to go, but lots of work for us to do too.”
Auburn starter Rocky McCord (2-1, 4.95 ERA) walked his first batter, second baseman Tony Kemp, and followed with a balk. That typified McCord’s day – and a short day it was, yanked with two outs in the second with a 4-0 deficit.
Justin Camp came in to douse the second-inning threat, but made a fielding error to start the third. Then on a potential double-play grounder, second baseman Jordan Ebert tossed it wide of the bag, and left fielder Cullen Wacker was late backing up the errant throw, allowing an unearned run to score.
Camp settled in, and his relievers Terrance Dedrick and Conner Kendrick allowed one run of damage in the final five innings.
“It’s always tough when you’re down,” Pawlowski said. “The mentality is you’ve just got to go out there and put some zeroes on the board. Those guys did a good job.”
Auburn loaded the bases in the fifth with two walks and a hit batter, but Tella struck out and Tomscha flew out to right.
Offense wasn’t in short supply for the first time this weekend, however, as Auburn (13-6, 0-3) produced 11 hits. Jackson Burgreen’s 2-out, 2-run single in the sixth cut Vandy’s lead to 7-5, and pinch-hitter Hunter Kelley, in just his third career plate appearance, delivered a 2-out RBI double in the eighth, again setting up a potential game-tying at-bat.
However, Ebert’s line drive was grabbed by Kemp, turning a potential rally into an inning-ending double play.
The winning pitcher was Vandy reliever Jared Miller, with 2 1/3 innings of work.
Tella, Auburn’s top run producer, was 2-for-12 with six strikeouts in the series.
Auburn returns to action Tuesday at home against Alabama State, followed by Wednesday’s neutral-site affair with Southern Miss at Mobile’s Hank Aaron Stadium. The Tigers head to LSU for next weekend’s SEC three-game set.