No. 7 Auburn bullied by trio of Mizzou home runs in series-opening loss

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Auburn batters finished 5 for 26 at the plate, as the No. 7 Tigers fell to the unranked Missouri Tigers, 6-1 in the series opener at Jane B. Moore Field.

Third baseman Kasey Cooper crushed a solo home run in the bottom of the first, which would eventually prove to be Auburn’s only score in the Friday evening SEC contest. Missouri senior Kirsten Mack responded with a solo shot of her own in the second, tying things up.

Auburn, despite turning in five hits, only scored off Cooper’s hit in the opening inning. The home Tigers connected on multiple pitches, however most were flawlessly corralled by the Mizzou infield. Catcher Courtney Shea logged the only other notable offensive performance for Auburn, finishing one for two and reaching base twice.

“At this point in time where we are in the season, talk is cheap,” Auburn head coach Clint Myers said. “We’ve got to go out now and have the understanding of what to do and do it. Everybody was all gung-ho about what we had. We had a great practice.

“We had opportunities, we couldn’t score, we had a couple bad pitches, our defense let us down. There was a lot of things we didn’t do right. We’re a good ball club, but we’re still trying to figure it out.”

Missouri, on the other hand, smashed a trio of long-yarders in the victory. Mack delivered an encore in the fourth inning, matching her earlier bomb with an identical solo home run to give Mizzou (24-16, 5-7 SEC) their first lead of the night. Chloe Rathburn extended that lead in the sixth inning with an RBI double.

The away Tigers pushed the deficit to 4-1 two batters later, after the umpire calling Kolby Romaine safe at first didn’t settle well with the Jane B. Moore crowd. Shortstop Braxton Burnside polished off the Mizzou offensive clinic with a two-run home run in the seventh, forcing the score to its final mark of 6-1.

The three home runs allowed by Kaylee Carlson (20-2) are the most in a single game in her career on the Plains. The junior transfer from North Carolina had only allowed three homers all season long heading into game one of the East-West conference showdown.

The loss is Carlson’s first since game one of the Florida series in Gainesville, back on March 25. Carlson pitched all seven innings, delivering four strikeouts and allowing all eight hits and all six runs.

In the bottom of the fifth inning, Auburn (34-7, 8-5 SEC) began to work a resurgence at the plate that shifted momentum back in their favor. With Casey McCrackin and Carlee Wallace on base, Cooper had no outs. McCrackin tagged out at third, Fagan popped out and Missouri pitcher Cheyenne Baxter left the bases loaded with red-hot freshman Alyssa Rivera at the dish to miraculously escape with no runs scored.

“We work situational hitting every game,” Myers said. “On Thursday, we were outstanding. But the inability to take Thursday’s mentality into Friday action, there’s that learning curve.”

Baxter was replaced by Parker Conrad early, but came back in the fourth to work 4.2 innings. The senior allowed only Cooper’s home run in 23 batters faced.

Needing five runs to tie and even think about sending the game into extras, Auburn began a miniature rally in the bottom of the seventh. Pinch-hitter Jenna Abbott and Victoria Draper drew back-to-back walks to put two on with no outs for Wallace. Rivera ultimately faced loaded bases with two outs and could only ground-out to close the game.

“A lot of girls, including myself, needing to collectively calm down,” Shea said. “We get into situations where runners are in scoring position every day. We just need to trust our preparation a lot more. The older girls need to remember that we are capable of scoring a lot of runs. We’ve just got to keep swinging.”

Auburn will look to avoid their second SEC series loss of 2017 in game two on Saturday night at Jane B. Moore. If Myers stays with the same rotation, Makayla Martin will get the nod in the circle and will toss the first pitch at 6 p.m. CST.

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