Fayetteville, Ark.—Arkansas catcher Jake Wise singled home Matt Reynolds with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the Razorbacks a 5-4 win over the Auburn Tigers to even the series Friday night in heartbreaking fashion for Coach John Pawlowski’s club. Allowing just four hits to Arkansas, Auburn committed four errors and it was the multitude of mistakes and missed opportunities that proved to be the difference between winning and losing.
“There are a lot of things we would like to have back, no doubt about it,” Pawlowski said. “I talked to our team and we made some big mistakes. Some things that we did you just go ‘wow’. If we could only have it back, but you can’t. Give credit to them. They found a way to win.”
With the loss Auburn falls to 27-23 overall and 11-15 in SEC play and missed a golden opportunity to make up ground in the conference after Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt all lost on Friday. Arkansas improves to 35-16, 13-13 in conference action.
After playing a solid defensive game to win the series opener, it was a reversal of fortune on Friday as Auburn struggled from the outset and never settled in despite getting fantastic starting pitching from freshman Daniel Koger. Allowing just two earned runs on two hits in six innings, Koger gave the Tigers every opportunity to get the win in one of his best outings of the season.
It wasn’t the start that Auburn was looking for however as the Tigers tried to take the series from the 13th-ranked Razorbacks. Playing in the place of the injured Garrett Cooper, Patrick Savage booted a one-out ground ball in the first inning to bring Dominic Ficociello to the plate and show a sign of things to come. One of the top hitters in the SEC, the switch-hitter launched his first homer of the season from the right side on the first pitch he saw from Koger to make it 2-0 Arkansas early in Friday night’s game.
After two quiet innings against Arkansas starter Randall Fant, Auburn got a pair of two-out hits in the third inning. The first came from Mitchell Self. Playing in place of a suspended Zach Alvord, Self singled as did Jay Gonzalez to put a pair on for Creede Simpson. However a fly ball by the senior brought the inning to a close.
In the fourth Fant completely fell apart as Ryan Tella singled and then moved to second on a balk. The left-hander then hit Justin Bryant and Savage to load the bases with nobody out. That was enough for Coach Dave Van Horn as he went to the bullpen for Cade Lynch. It proved to be a wise move as Auburn could manage just a run on a Bryant sacrifice fly as Lynch struck out Blake Austin and Bobby Andrews to keep Arkansas up 2-1.
With Koger settling in on the mound, the Tigers came back for more in the fifth and again got plenty of help from the Razorbacks. Walking to lead off the inning, Self moved to second on a sacrifice bunt and then advanced to third on a balk with Simpson at the plate. A walk to Auburn’s second baseman put runner on first and third for Tella and that’s when the fun began.
Putting down a perfect bunt, Tella cruised into first with nobody covering the bag. Self scored on the play to tie the game and when the ball was bobbled at first Simpson kept running to make it all the way to third. That proved to be a big play as Bryant lifted a foul ball down the right field line that sent Simpson off and running. The throw from right field was in plenty of time to cut down the senior at the plate, but the Arkansas catcher dropped the ball and Auburn had a 3-2 lead.
Just like the Razorbacks had helped Auburn, the Tigers returned the favor and then some in the seventh inning to give it all away. After retiring 10-straight hitters, Koger walked Ficociello to bring the right-hander Matt Reynolds to the plate. Deciding to play the odds, Auburn went to the bullpen for the right-hander Bryant. The move didn’t pay off as he walked the first hitter he faced to put runners on first and second. After getting a strikeout Bryant got ahead 0-2 on Bo Bigham, but after a waste pitch he threw one in the dirt that sent Ficociello racing for third. Austin came up with the ball and threw late to third, but the ball went into left field for an error.
The runner scored on the play and Reynolds advanced all the way to third with the go-ahead run. A wild pitch then allowed the second run of the inning to cross the plate and made it 4-3 Razorbacks. Without a hit Arkansas put two on the board and turned things over to one of the top bullpens in the country to try to finish it off.
“The leadoff walk and then you have one of their best hitters up,” Pawlowski said of the seventh. “He’s a guy who certainly has done it before and can hit the ball out of the ballpark. We have one of those innings where we weren’t able to control the zone. Then we had an unforced error as well.”
It lasted just one pitch however as Savage greeted Colby Suggs with a solo homer to tie the game at four. Glevenyak followed with a double and just like that the Tigers were in a great position to take the lead. Following a bunt by Austin, the Auburn shortstop was standing on third with one out and Bobby Andrews at the plate. Trying a safety squeeze on the first strike, Auburn went one step past that and called for a suicide squeeze but Andrews couldn’t make contact. Glevenyak was caught to end the threat and keep the game tied at four.
Pitching a scoreless eighth inning, Smith ran into trouble in the ninth as Reynolds singled to open the inning. A failed bunt attempt kept him at first with one out for Bo Bigham. Getting a ground ball, Smith watched as Simpson booted it at second for Auburn’s fourth error of the game. A ground ball by Derrick Bleeker for out number two left runners on second and third for Wise. Getting ahead 0-2, Smith left one over the plate that Wise sent back up the middle for the game winner.
Tella and Gonzalez combined for five hits for the Tigers while four different Arkansas players had one hit for the Razorbacks. Smith (3-5) took the loss for the Tigers, allowing one run on two hits in one and two/third innings, while Suggs (5-0) got the win for Arkansas.
Auburn will try to win its second road series of the year on Saturday. Both teams are listed as TBA on the mound for the 2 p.m. start.
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