Athens, Ga.—Battling back time and time again before finally taking a 5-4 lead in the top of the 11th inning on a Caleb Bowen two-out double, the Auburn Tigers (25-21, 10-13) failed to hold on as Georgia (27-20, 11-12) scored twice in the bottom of the inning to steal a 6-5 win and win the series at Foley Field. It was a case of what could have been for Coach John Pawlowski’s Tigers as they made mistake after mistake and it cost them in the end.
“I thought we had some opportunities,” Pawlowski said. “We had some base running mistakes. You walk a leadoff guy and it comes back to haunt you. We just have to play some solid defense. Even with a lot of little things that we did I thought we could steal one today. Unfortunately it came back to bite us.”
With the game tied in the top of the 11th Auburn pulled ahead thanks to some clutch hitting and heads up baseball. Already with three hits on the day, including a home run, Justin Bryant was at the plate with two outs after Dan Glevenyak singled but was caught stealing. A single into left field put the go-ahead run at the plate with senior catcher Caleb Bowen at the plate.
Coming in as a replacement for Blake Austin, Bowen got a chance to be the hero for the Tigers when Bryant made a heads up play and advanced to second on a wild pitch by Georgia reliever Bryan Benzor. Getting down in the count, Bowen reached out and laced a double into right field to score Bryant and put the Tigers in front 5-4. It was the fourth lead of the game for Auburn and it would be up to senior Derek Varnadore to hold it.
Coming on in relief of Daniel Koger after the freshman allowed two runs on six hits in five innings, Varnadore had been solid for the Tigers through his first five innings. Allowing a pair of runs in the seventh, Varnadore had otherwise shut down Georgia the rest of the time. Facing defensive replacement Kyle Hester to open the 11th, Varnadore walked the left-hander to put himself in a tough spot.
Getting a ground ball from pinch hitter Nelson Ward that moved the runner to second, Varnadore allowed a single to left field by number nine hitter Conor Welton to put runners on the corners with one out and the top of the order up for Georgia.
Derek Varnadore took the loss for Auburn, throwing five and two/thirds innings of relief and allowing four runs on five hits.
Facing leading hitter Curt Powell, Varnadore got a ground ball to Creede Simpson at second base and he turned and threw to Dan Glevenyak at the second base bag for the second out. With the tying run crossing the plate, Glevenyak threw to first but well late for the speedy Powell. The throw bounced away from Garrett Cooper at first base and the error allowed Powell to move to second with the possible winning run.
Leaving Varnadore in, Pawlowski rolled the dice and decided to pitch to Kyle Farmer with first base open. It proved to be the wrong move as Farmer dumped a single into center field to score Powell and give the Bulldogs the victory.
“He’s the guy we want in there,” Pawlowski said. “Unfortunately it didn’t work out. Our team is disappointed, very disappointed. We’ve got another one tomorrow. We’ve got to come back and regroup and play hard tomorrow.”
One of the bright spots for the Tigers was the play of Bryant. Going 4-4 with two runs scored, the senior led a 13-hit attack for Auburn on Saturday. Simpson added three hits with Bobby Andrews chipping in a pair of hits as well. Bryant said Saturday’s loss was a big one for the team and now they’ve got to find a way to get one back on Sunday.
“We let a lot of big opportunities go by,” Pawlowski said. “Even the little things that people look over like certain base running mistakes, and sometimes we didn’t get guys over when we needed to. Coach said it best, all those little things will come back to bite you in the end and they did eventually.
“Not getting swept is possibly the biggest thing in a SEC series,” he added. “It puts us in a better position because if we win tomorrow we’re two games back again. Nobody wants to get swept and in the SEC, as tight as it is right now, it’s a have-to to win tomorrow.”
Auburn struck first on a warm day at Foley Field Saturday as Bryant caught a change-up from Georgia starter Michael Palazzone and drove it over the fence in left field for his third home run of the season. It was the eighth of Bryant’s career, but his third in five career games at Georgia.
Staked to the early lead Koger lost it in the bottom of the second as consecutive singles by Levi Hyams, Peter Verdin and Colby May loaded the bases with nobody out for the Bulldogs. Facing catcher Joey Delmonico, Koger got what he was looking for with a ground ball directly to Cooper at first base. He threw home to cut down Hyams for the first out.
Facing Welton, Koger got another ground ball but this time right at a leaping Zach Alvord at third base. Instead of stepping on the bag and throwing to first for the double play Alvord dropped the ball in the exchange. That made everyone safe and allowed the tying run to score. Koger recovered to get out of the inning with no more damage however and keep it 1-1 going to the third.
The Tigers finally got to Palazzone again in the fourth as Simpson singled and stole second to move into scoring position. An error on the steal attempt by Delmonico allowed the senior to move to third with nobody out. Cooper then delivered a ground ball that pushed the go-ahead run across for Auburn.
Once again Georgia answered as a one-out walk to May proved costly for the Tigers as he came around to score on a wild pitch by Koger. With the game tied at two Auburn again took the lead in the fifth with more small ball.
Leading off the inning, speedy Jay Gonzalez reached on a bloop single to center field and quickly stole second to move into scoring position with nobody out. Following an Alvord strikeout, Andrews made the most of his starting opportunity with a single to left field. Gonzalez scored on the play to put the Tigers back in front 3-2.
Koger held the Bulldogs scoreless in the fifth thanks to his defense. With two outs and Farmer on second after reaching on a single, Hyams ripped a single to center field that Ryan Tella caught on a dead run. Coming up throwing, Tella gunned down Farmer easily at the plate to keep Auburn in front.
Blake Austin tags out Kyle Farmer after a great throw from Ryan Tella
The Tigers extended the lead with one swing of the bat in the next inning. Leading off the sixth, Simpson hit a blast deep to center field and into the trees for a solo homer. It was his third of the season and made it 4-2 Auburn. The Tigers had a chance for more as they got first and third with just one out, but Austin hit into a double play to end the threat.
Done for the day after allowing two runs on six hits, Koger turned things over to Varnadore in the sixth. After striking out the side in his first inning, the senior ran into serious trouble in the seventh as he walked Welton to lead things off. After getting Powell on a fly ball, Varnadore gave up a double to Farmer to bring the Bulldogs back within one. One out later the game was tied as Brett DeLoach ripped a two-out double to right field to score Farmer and make it 4-4.
With one out in the top of the eighth Simpson struck again as he launched one deep into the corner in right field. Stumbling over first, he cruised into second for a double to give the Tigers two shots to take the lead back. He could have likely made it easily to third base, but didn’t push it. It proved to be a big mistake as Cooper hit a deep fly ball to center field that would have easily scored him. Instead Simpson moved to third for Dan Glevenyak with two outs. Facing Georgia closer Blake Dieterich, the Auburn shortstop walked to put runners on the corners for Bryant.
On edge at third, Simpson broke for the plate with a ball in the dirt. Dieterich failed to cover home so it was a race between Simpson and Delmonico back to the plate. In a bang-bang play Simpson was called out to end the inning and keep the game tied at four.
Varnadore kept the Bulldogs scoreless in both the eighth and ninth innings to push it to the 10th where Andrews led off with a perfect bunt single. Auburn’s fastest player, Andrews waited at first for Tella to bunt him over. With two strikes Andrews wandered too far off first and was picked off. Dieterich then struck out Tella and got Simpson on a ground ball to end the inning.
That set the stage for the drama in the final inning as Georgia came away with the win.
Auburn will send freshman Trey Cochran-Gill to the mound on Sunday looking to salvage a win in the series. The first pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m. central time.
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