Oxford, Miss.—The Auburn baseball Tigers got exactly what they were looking for from starting pitcher Derek Varnadore on Friday night as the senior allowed just two runs in six and two/thirds innings, but it wasn’t enough to get the win as Ole Miss squeaked by 2-1 to take the opening game of the series.
Continuing a disturbing trend this season, Auburn left seven runners on base against the Rebels with six of those stranded in scoring position.
With Ole Miss starter Bobby Wahl plus relievers Dylan Chavez and Brett Huber combining to strike out 11 Tigers and walk just one batter, Coach John Pawlowski said his team just couldn’t get the hit it needed to get over the hump.
“We talked about getting ourselves to the last three innings of the game and giving ourselves a chance to win,” Pawlowski said. “Varny (Varnadore) did that. Cory (Luckie) did a really good job. I’m proud of what they did.
“Unfortunately, we just weren’t able to push anything across. I thought we had some opportunities, some really good opportunities.
"The frustrating thing for our team and our hitters is that we were in some pretty good hitting counts. We had some situations we could have done some damage, unfortunately it just didn’t work out for us tonight.”
With the loss Auburn falls to 10-8 on the season and 0-1 in SEC play. Ranked 12th in the country, Ole Miss improves to 15-3 overall and 1-0 in league action.
In addition to Varnadore’s outstanding outing, senior Cory Luckie also pitched well in one and one/third innings of relief. The two combined to allow just five hits to Ole Miss, but Auburn’s offense didn’t do enough to help them on this night.
“The thing is, when you don’t have your best stuff you’ve got to find a way to grind it out and get your team deeper into the game,” Pawlowski said of his starting pitcher. “They battled. They put some balls in play and didn’t have many strikeouts. At the end of the day if you give our team a chance to win late in the game that’s what you’re looking for. I thought he did that and I’m proud of what he did.
“It was good to see with Cory,” he added. “He’s struggled a little bit and he’s been frustrated and down a little bit, but I told him good things are going to happen for him. He’s worked so hard to put himself in this position and just has to keep working. He did a good job today.”
Offensively, Ryan Tella led the Tigers with three hits while senior Justin Bryant added two hits in his first game batting this season. Creede Simpson, Garrett Cooper and Dan Glevenyak had the only other hits for the Tigers.
Early on Auburn struggled to find some offensive rhythm off Wahl despite some success at the plate. Getting a hit in the first, the Tigers got a leadoff single from Cooper to open the second inning to bring Bryant to the plate. A full-time pitcher previously this season, the senior laced a single in his first at-bat of the season out into left field to put runners on the corners with nobody out.
Unfortunately for the Tigers they continued their struggles with runners in scoring position as a Glevenyak strikeout and consecutive popups from Zach Alvord and Blake Austin kept Auburn scoreless going to the bottom of the second. That’s when Ole Miss would take the early lead.
Putting himself in a hole, Varnadore hit matt snyder to start the second inning to put the Rebels in business. Executing the hit and run to perfection, Andrew Mistone singled to send Snyder around to third with nobody out. Following a pop up for the first out, Varnadore walked Zach Kirksey to load the bases for Will Allen. That proved to be a mistake as Allen singled home Snyder to make it 1-0 Ole Miss.
Varnadore recovered to get out of the inning with no more damage though, allowing his offense to answer in the third.
Needing something positive to happen the Tigers got some help in the top of the third inning as Simpson singled with one out. A threat to run, Simpson forced Wahl into a mistake as his pickoff throw to first bounced away for an error. The speedy Simpson moved all the way to third and would score moments later on a Tella sacrifice fly to tie the game.
It didn’t take long for Ole Miss to get the run back as Auston Bousfield hit a blast off the top of the wall in left field for a double to open the fourth. He didn’t stay there long as designated hitter Zach Kirksey singled up the middle to score the run for the 2-1 Ole Miss lead. It was Kirksey’s 31st RBI of the season and gave Wahl back the lead to work with.
Another wasted opportunity for the Tigers came in the seventh inning as they got a pair of runners on base with Jay Gonzalez at the plate. A wild pitch moved Glevenyak and Austin into scoring position, but strikeouts by Gonzalez and Simpson brought the inning to a close.
That’s how things would remain until Auburn threatened again in the top of the eighth inning against Chavez. Leading off the inning, Tella singled to left field to put the Tigers in position to move the tying run to second with a bunt. Instead Auburn rolled the dice and swung away, and hit into a double play as Cullen Wacker’s ground ball was easily rolled into the twin killing to kill the rally.
Luckie kept the Rebels scoreless in the eighth to give Auburn one final chance against Huber in the ninth, but the Tigers went down in order in the ninth to go away quietly.
Auburn will send sophomore Will Kendall (2-0, 0.00 ERA) to the mound on Saturday against right-hander R.J. Hiveley (3-0, 2.08) for Ole Miss. The game is scheduled to start at 1:30 p.m.