In a season finale that determined seeding in the SEC Tournament, Auburn baseball fell 6-3 to Kentucky to take a loss in its final series of the regular season.
Auburn finishes the regular season at 37-18 overall and 16-13 in conference play.
Joseph Gonzalez started on the mound for the Tigers, going five innings and giving up just three hits through the half of the game where his team led. His outing at Alabama was cut short last weekend, a cancellation that would have counted as a win. Weather cut his start short again in this game.
“He was good again,” said head coach Butch Thompson. “That’s two weekends in a row that he’s thrown the ball very competitively for us.”
Unlike game one of the series, Auburn got the offense going in the first. Blake Rambusch singled and stole second, in comfortable scoring position when a Brooks Carlson double drove him in.
A pitching battle commenced after the lone run gave Auburn the lead. Both teams combined for just five hits across the first five innings as Gonzalez and Kentucky's Mason Hazelwood worked through the orders.
After the fifth inning, a line of storms swept across Lexington and delayed play for over an hour. Auburn went into the delay with a 1-0 lead and had the game been called there, it would have been ruled a Tiger win because the game was more than halfway over.
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However, the storms did not persist, and Kentucky capitalized after the break. Gonzalez did not return, and Carson Skipper entered the game, starting the sixth and giving up three runs on just one hit.
“[Weather] is in the excuse category,” Thompson said. “They came out. They were ready to play. They were hungry, and we didn’t handle an inning.”
Kentucky’s leadoff hitter Daniel Harris doubled and Skipper struck out the next in line, but he followed that with a walk. An error on catcher Nate LaRue occurred when he tried to throw to second for an out, so Harris scored.
Ryan Ritter, the walk, was on third when Skipper walked a second batter and that marked the end of his outing. John Armstrong came in as relief, inheriting a pair of runners on the corners.
Armstrong walked his first batter, then gave up a single that scored two runs. Two more singles would score two more runs, ending Armstrong’s day. He finished with three hits and two runs in four batters.
Chase Allsup relieved Armstrong and ultimately allowed Kentucky its final run in the eighth. He gave up a double, then an RBI single that scored the runner. Brooks Fuller replaced Allsup after two innings, striking out the final Wildcat batter of the day.
Auburn came briefly alive in the top of the seventh and ninth, with solo, lead-off home runs from Bobby Peirce and Sonny DiChiara, but those ended up being the only hits of those innings. Auburn returned to its game one inability to link up hits.
Kentucky closer Tyler Guilfoil had a lot to do with that. Replacing Hazelwood, he lasted the final four innings and gave up just three hits and racked up five strikeouts. Two of those hits were homers and the other was a lone single in the eighth.
Auburn changed the batting order in the bottom of the eighth, to include left-handed Mike Bello and Ryan Dyal. Unshaken by the alterations, Guilfoil sat down three after allowing Bello to lead off with the single.
No Auburn batter logged multiple hits in the game and two-thirds of the scoring came from solo home runs. With just five total hits, Auburn left only two runners stranded.
“They absolutely did more with two outs and we just couldn’t muster enough,” Thompson said. “We had a couple solos today, Bobby and Sonny, got a couple good hits but we’ll have to get better with our approaches. I think offensively on the road and even pitching on the road, we’ve had a couple innings like we had the one inning today.”
With the loss, Auburn lost its shot at a No. 4 seed in the SEC Tournament, a spot on the bracket that automatically guarantees a day one bye and advances teams to the double elimination round. LSU will overtake the Tigers for that spot, so Auburn instead heads to Hoover, Alabama as a No. 5 seed.
Kentucky earned a tournament berth with its win, so the Wildcats will be the No. 12 seed, which sets up a rematch with Auburn in the final game of day one.
“I don’t think I can stress any more about trying to play a game up there,” Thompson said. “With so many fans there, the tournament has always been important to us. We’ll have to go try to put our best foot forward to enter the double elimination portion of the tournament.”
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