After an underwhelming display on Friday and Saturday, an overcast Sunday afternoon at Plainsman park was a fitting backdrop for Auburn’s series finale with UCF. The Tigers dropped the series finale 12-2, resulting in a series sweep, to conclude an agonizing weekend of baseball for the home squad.
The Tigers fall to 5-3 on the season, after winning five straight to open the season.
“I know we have a quality ball club, and I know we have good coaches that are going to get them in a good place,” head coach Butch Thompson said. “I'll try to find the silver lining in this for this to happen the second weekend and try to find the good out of it. It's a long season. I won't blink. I'll ask people who care about the program not to blink, either. We'll keep working and see if in some way, shape, form or fashion this makes us a better ball club. We'll try to use it for good to make this the best ball club we possibly can be."
Bailey Horn started for the Tigers and the 6-foot-2 left hander kept the Knights off the board through the first two frames but ran into trouble in the top of the third when UCF’s Tom Josten cranked a two-run homerun over the wall in left-center.
The Knights scoring did not stop there. Horn went on to give up an additional run on two sequential base hits before he was replaced by freshman left hander Hayden Mullins with the UCF lead at 3-0.
Mullins was unable to find success out of the gate, giving up a two-run homer to Pablo Ruiz, UCF’s second two-run blast in one inning which pushed the Knights' advantage to 4-0. Auburn never could recover from UCF's five-run third inning.
“I think there’s some credibility to that’” Thompson said of the pressure you have as a pitcher taking the mound with a deficit. “You feel like ‘I can’t give up another run,’ and that affects you.”
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In the bottom of the same frame, Thompson’s squad was able to respond with a run of their own coming from a Judd Ward RBI single, making it a 5-1 ballgame. However, the offense struggled to generate anything else the rest of the way.
After trading scoreless half-innings in the fourth, it was the Knights scored three runs off the bats of Crouch, Ruiz and Orlando, pushing their lead to 8-1, and forcing the Tigers to pull Mullins and throw freshman right hander Blake Burkhalter.
Burkhalter’s day was a short one, as he was replaced by sophomore Drew Baker in the top of the sixth.
Despite sitting two hitters down on strikes in the early going, Baker continued the trend of pitching struggles for the Tigers, giving up two runs in his inning of work, one of which came off a wild pitch that resulted in UCF’s Gephry Pena scoring from third. Pena pushed the lead to 10-1.
Auburn’s struggles on the mound were coupled with its offense’s inability to manufacture runs. UCF pitching continued to be stingy, holding the Tigers to just one run through eight innings.
The Knights scored six runs between the fifth and seventh innings and tacked on a run in the ninth.
Auburn's Moore singled again to load the bases in the ninth, and Ward lifted a sacrifice fly to right field to score Garrett Farquhar for the Tigers' second and last run of the game. Ryan Bliss struck out to end the game.
According to senior first baseman Conor Davis, this weekend’s series was not a reflection of his team's potential.
“I know we have talent. I know we have skill,” Davis said. “We just got to figure out how to put it all together.”
The Tigers prepare for a two-game home stand against Alabama A&M beginning Tuesday. First pitch between the Tigers and the Bulldogs will be at 5:00 p.m. CT.
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