Jacksonville State’s 11-6 victory against Auburn on Tuesday night was indeed a walk in the park.
The Tigers’ pitchers handed nine opposing batters a free walk to first base. Five of those walked players scored. To make matters worse for the home squad, Auburn was up 6-0 after three innings.
It only took one inning for the Gamecocks to tie the game. After three straight frames without allowing a run, the Jacksonville State lineup began to figure out Auburn freshman starter Garrett Wade. With the first two Gamecock batters on first and third with no outs, Wade found himself in a hole for the first time of the night.
At the plate was Alex Strachan, a .217 hitter, whom Wade managed to get in a 0-2 count. All it took was for a ball to kiss off Strachan’s bat and nosedive into the dirt to drive the first runner home, effectively ending the scoring drought.
After that, it was like a virus had spread from the Jacksonville State dugout onto the Auburn side. Wade let up two more runs, got pulled and handed the ball off to Ryan Watson, who also let up three runs.
“I thought they earned more in the fourth by them playing offense,” said Auburn head coach Butch Thompson. "Than they did in the seventh. I thought that was more of shooting ourselves in the foot."
The seventh inning was its own type of meltdown. Six out of the first eight Gamecock batters that stepped up to home plate strolled to first base without putting a ball in play. It seemed as if the pitchers in white were allergic to throwing a ball through the strike zone.
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“I’m waiting on something good to happen,” Thompson said. “If we can get the ball in the strike zone is probably level one.”
Three different pitchers tried, but all were unsuccessful. By the time Will Morrison came in, the fourth pitcher of the inning, and retired three straight batters, the damage was done; Jacksonville State had taken an 11-6 lead.
Coach Thompson cited fatigue as a possible reason for why his pitchers lost the ability to land a strike. All six of the pitchers he used in this game had played in the two previous. With Davis Daniel and Jack Owen still out with injuries, the Auburn bullpen was already at a disadvantage.
The pitchers weren’t the only ones to blame though. After a scorching start, Auburn went hitless for two straight innings. On the one hit they did manage to get before the slump, Will Holland was picked off on first base. Each inning ended in groans from the few fans remaining in Plainsman Park.
Isaiah Magwood, the second pitcher to come into the game for Jacksonville State, was mostly responsible for this. Magwood struck out seven batters in three innings. He had more strikeouts alone than all six of Auburn’s pitchers combined.
Once he came out of the game Michael Gilliland, a left-handed pitcher with a throwing motion that Thompson could only describe as “funky,” picked up right where his teammate left off by not allowing a single run.
“I really thought their second guy had a great arm,” Thompson said. “Once the lefty came in I saw the swings change... It seemed like every time that he was going to not have enough command he always made a pitch on a full count.”
This was Auburn’s fourth loss in five games. All five of those games were at home. Thompson said that his team can’t get too down on themselves and have to keep moving forward, but he also acknowledges that they have some regrouping they need to do if they want to stay competitive in the SEC West.
“We won 15 in a row,” Thompson said. “Maybe our highs are high, and our lows are low. In baseball, you just try to stay in the middle.”
Currently, the Tigers are one game back from the top spot in the division. How they respond to this losing streak will be the crossroads that defines the rest of their season.
Auburn faces Texas A&M on Friday in College Station, Texas, with first pitch set for 6:30 p.m. CST.
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