"Against good teams if you give them either free bases or extra bases, meaning we just didn't handle the ball in certain situations, it's going to come back and hurt you," Auburn Coach John Pawlowski said. "In the first inning we didn't do a good job of damage control. They came up with the big home run and put us down 4-0. It's tough to get out of that hole. Our guys did a good job and fought back, but unfortunately it wasn't enough."
With the weekend series loss to South Carolina, Auburn (21-19, 7-11) has now dropped 13-straight series to the Gamecocks with the last series win for the Tigers coming in 1997. It was also the sixth time that South Carolina has swept Auburn during that span.
The second sweep in three weeks and dropping eight out of its last nine SEC games has Auburn just one game out of last place in the conference standings. Only Alabama's 6-12 record keeps the Tigers out of the cellar after Vanderbilt avoided a sweep in Tuscaloosa with a 9-7 win on Sunday. Winning two of three at home against LSU, Kentucky (13-5) has a one-game lead on the Bengal Tigers (12-6) for the overall lead in the conference.
All you have to do is look at the numbers to see Auburn's problems. Jumping out to a 6-3 conference record, the Tigers outscored their opponents 45-25. Winning just one game since that time, Auburn has been outscored 66-34 and has given up double-figures four times in that stretch. Pawlowski said it's tough to put your finger on what has changed with his team.
"I don't know to be honest with you," Pawlowski said. "I think right now our team is searching a little bit. Offensively we went through some dry spells. The first nine games we went out and pitched extremely well early in the game. I think it has been a combination of the starters and a combination of the offense and certainly the defense. I can't put a finger on it, but I know as quickly as it went one way it can turn around and go back in a positive way for us."
The only bright spot on the day was offensively as the Tigers pounded out 16 hits with designated hitter Kody Ortman going 4-5 with three RBI and a run scored. Pawlowski said his play has earned him more chances in the lineup down the road.
"That was great to see Kody do that," Pawlowski said. "I certainly think he'll get more looks and an opportunity. We've got to get out of the gates. We didn't get out of the gates today and got put back on our heels. Then we had to fight back to try to get close."
On the mound starter Daniel Koger allowed eight runs on five hits in just four and one/third innings, but only three of the runs were earned as he took the loss to fall to 2-4 on the season. Slade Smith, Rocky McCord and Zach Blatt allowed three runs in the final four and two/thirds innings for the Tigers.
After two losses on the weekend Auburn was looking for a fast start on Sunday and instead fell apart in a brutal first inning behind Koger. The freshman didn't help himself with a leadoff walk to Joey Pankake after getting ahead 0-2 in the count. Following a strikeout, Christian Walker hit a ground ball towards Justin Bryant at third base. Instead of a possible double play it turned into an error to put runners on first and second with one out.
Another error, this one by Dan Glevenyak on a Grayson Greiner ground ball, scored Pankake from second to put South Carolina on the board. Following a fly ball by L.B. Dantzler that should have been the third out of the inning, designated hitter Erik Payne made Auburn pay with a three-run shot to right field. With four unearned runs in the first inning the Gamecocks handed the ball over to starter Colby Holmes and he made it stand up.
Auburn threatened in the bottom of the first as the Tigers loaded the bases with two outs as Garrett Cooper was hit by a pitch, a single by Cullen Wacker, and a walk to Bryant, but Ortman struck out looking to end the inning.
The Gamecocks were just getting started however as Tanner English reached on an infield single in the second and eventually scored on an Evan Marzilli fly ball for a 5-0 South Carolina lead. Another unearned run in the third inning on Bryant's second error of the game allowed Dantzler to score the sixth Gamecock run of the game before Auburn finally got on the board in the fourth.
Leading off the inning Bryant singled and Ortman followed with a single of his own to put runners on the corners with nobody out. Following a Creede Simpson strikeout, Jay Gonzalez singled to left field to score Bryant with Auburn's first run of the game. It looked like Auburn was headed for more as Austin hit a liner off the glove of Holmes on the mound, but second baseman Chase Vergason picked it up and threw to first in time to retire Austin. A walk to Glevenyak loaded the bases again with two outs for Auburn, but Ryan Tella's groundout left the bases loaded for Auburn for the second time in four innings.
South Carolina added to its lead with two more runs in the top of the fifth as Smith came on in relief of Koger. The Tigers wouldn't lay down however as Cooper singled to lead off the bottom of the inning and moved to second on a Wacker groundout. Following a Bryant strikeout, Ortman continued his big day with a double to left field to score Cooper from second.
Now down 8-2, Auburn got the big hit the Tigers were needed as Simpson stepped to the plate and hit a pitch deep over the left field wall for his first home run of the season. The blast cut the South Carolina lead down to four and gave the Tigers some life.
In the sixth the Tigers again looked to be in position to score runs as Austin led off with a double, his second hit of the game. Following a Glevenyak strikeout, Tella hit a ground ball in the hole at shortstop. It would have been a tough play to get the speedy Tella at first, but Austin tried to get to third base on the play and was an easy target for Pankake at third base. That killed the inning for Auburn and allowed South Carolina to breathe easy.
Dantzler took what little life that was left out of Plainsman Park with one swing of the bat in the top of the seventh as his solo homer to right field off Smith was his seventh of the year and second of the weekend. That made it 9-4 Gamecocks. Two more runs in the eighth inning gave the visitors a seven-run advantage to work with.
Auburn made some serious noise in the ninth inning as consecutive singles by Tella, Cooper and Wacker loaded the bases with nobody out. Following a Zach Alvord strikeout, Ortman came through with his fourth hit of the game as his single to right field scored two and made it 11-6. Another single by Gonzalez made it a four-run game to bring the tying run to the plate. Facing South Carolina closer Matt Price both Patrick Savage and Glevenyak were caught looking to end the game.
Following his strikeout Glevenyak was ejected from the game by home plate umpire A.J. Lostaglio. He will have to sit out Auburn's Tuesday night game at Troy by league rules. The game is scheduled for a 6 p.m. start.