In a delayed matchup with weekend-opponent Kentucky, Auburn baseball fell 3-1 to be eliminated from the SEC Tournament.
The matchup was game four of the tournament, originally scheduled for roughly 8 p.m. on Tuesday, but storms swept through the area around the Hoover Met and ruined the schedule. Rescheduled for 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, the weather continued to threaten and the game finally began at 12:45 p.m. after a wave of morning storms.
Head coach Butch Thompson started senior Carson Skipper on the mound. When it seemed his weekend starters would need Tuesday off for rest, Thompson went to Skipper for his veteran presence and experience in the Met.
Once the rain dissipated, Skipper went three innings and faced 11 batters. He struck out seven of those he faced and gave up just one hit but no runs. Junior Trace Bright took over for more than two, striking out just one during his outing and giving up the first run of the day.
The Tigers did not log a hit until the fourth inning, when a Bobby Peirce double was followed by a Brooks Carlson walk. Brody Moore bunted to advance his runners, but a gutsy play by the first baseman got lead runner Peirce out at third.
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“When you wind up with just a few at-bats and you're not getting anything done -- we needed that one big hit, and it really didn't happen until the 8th inning. Sometimes that looks like you're not focused when you're just not having good at-bats,” Thompson said. “But I think they are, and I think the defense -- and I think that the pitchers competing showed that.”
Carson Swilling took over in the sixth after Bright gave up a double, striking out his first batter to strand the runner and hold the lead to one.
Once in the seventh with no runs, Auburn went to SEC-leading closer Blake Burkhalter to hold off the Wildcats and give the bats a chance to warm up. Burkhalter collected five outs and one hit to get the Tigers through to the ninth.
“There's always room for improvement. Kentucky just out-offensed us today. Same with on the mound,” Skipper said. “They only gave up one run, and it was that Sonny [DiChiara] home run. There was not a ton of offense by either team, but at the same time there's still room for improvement for everybody.
Kentucky starter Sean Harney had a big day, going seven innings and striking out five in his personal shutout of the Tigers. At a pitch count of 97 for the day, Harney was pulled due to an apparent head injury. The SEC Network broadcast reported that he incurred the injury while jumping in the dugout.
Harney’s replacement for the remainder of the eighth was Daniel Harper, whose outing ended rather early. The third batter he faced was Hoover native DiChiara, who launched a bomb over the scoreboard in left field to tie the game.
Kentucky had an answer, though. Backs against the wall with Auburn having the final at bat, the Wildcats plated two insurance runs to pull out of the tie. Oraj Anu and Adam Fogel sent a pair of home runs over center and left field to secure the win.
Wildcat closer Tyler Guilfoil replaced Harper after he followed the homer with a single. Harper went on to strikeout three of his six batters on the way to collecting the win.
Auburn’s seniors almost overcame the deficit in the end. Brody Moore singled and Kason Howell was hit by a pitch, so the Tigers had a pair of runners and no outs, but two strikeouts and a pop-up ended the game.
As the No. 5 seed, Auburn was still in the first round of the tournament despite playing on Wednesday, so it exits the tournament in the single-elimination round. Selection for NCAA Regionals will be Monday, May 30 at noon, airing on ESPN2.
“We've got to get back to some sharp, clean offense. We look forward to it. It's good to have something to work toward the next few days,” Thompson said. “You're going to get down to the 64 best teams in the country, and there's no doubt that this team can play well.”
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