Comeback Bid Comes Up Short For Tigers

Ryan Tella

Auburn fell to Jacksonville State 8-7 Tuesday night in the last non-conference game of the regular season.

Auburn, Ala.—Trailing 8-3 to Jacksonville State, Auburn scored four runs in the seventh inning and loaded the bases with two outs in the ninth before Gamecocks' closer Todd Hornsby got Justin Bryant on a ground ball to end the comeback bid at 8-7 Tuesday night. With the loss Auburn falls to 29-24 overall while Jacksonville State improves to 24-27 on the season.

In a game that saw Auburn take an early 2-0 lead on a Ryan Tella home run in the first inning, the Tigers never could get back control of things after the Gamecocks scored four runs in the fourth inning to break the game open. Three Auburn errors led to a pair of unearned runs and that proved to be the difference said Coach John Pawlowski.

"I thought we played sloppy today," Pawlowski said. "I just don't think we played a clean baseball game. We mishandled too many balls and when you do that it makes it tough. They played well. They deserved to win."

On the mound Cory Luckie got the loss for the Tigers, allowing three earned runs on eight hits in just three innings. Slade Smith allowed two earned runs on three hits in three innings of relief while Derek Varnadore allowed a run on two hits in two and one/third innings. Bryant also saw some action for the Tigers as well, pitching two/thirds of an inning. Pawlowski said he decided to throw his best to win the game and it didn't work out.

"We were trying to win the game," Pawlowski said. "We were trying to get those guys and hold them down. We were trying to go with our best guys and guys we felt confident in. In a close ballgame you've got to try to find a way to win it."

Just like they did in Monday night's win, the Tigers got off to a quick start at the plate against the Gamecocks in the first inning. With one out Creede Simpson singled and quickly stole second to move into scoring position for Ryan Tella. Facing left-hander Casey Antley, Tella got a pitch to drive and hit it high into the sky towards right field. The ball just cleared the wall for his fifth home run of the season and just like that it was 2-0 Auburn. The sophomore center fielder finished the night 3-4 with three RBI at the plate.

After struggling through the first three innings, Luckie ran into some serious trouble in the fourth thanks to the long ball. Leading off the inning, Waldrip got his pitch and didn't miss it as his solo homer put Jacksonville State on the board. It was his 16th of the season and when Kyle Bluestein added his ninth of the season it was back tied.

That was just the start of Luckie's problems however as back-to-back singles by Erik Underwood and Cal Lambert brought shortstop Andrew Bishop up with a chance to do more damage. Trying to bunt the runners over, he put one down the third base line that Luckie fielded cleanly only to throw away at first for an error.

Going from bad to worse, the senior walked number nine hitter Michael Bishop to force home the go-ahead run for Jacksonville State. That was all for Luckie as Smith came in to get a double play and a groundout to end the inning allowing just one more run.

In the fifth the Gamecocks again got the offense cranked up as a one-out double by Waldrip put a runner in scoring position. Following a groundout to move him to third, Underwood singled up the middle to push him across for the 5-2 lead. Moving to second on a wild pitch, the JSU left fielder scored on an error by Auburn shortstop Dan Glevenyak to put the Tigers down by four.

Auburn got one back with one swing of the bat in the bottom of the fifth as catcher Blake Austin launched a solo homer over the monster in left field. It was his third of the season and gave the Tigers some life. With two outs Jay Gonzalez reached on a single and stole second with Simpson at the plate. The senior appeared to have put the Tigers on the board again with a smash up the middle, but it deflected off the Gamecock pitcher to easily get Simpson at first on a throw.

Jacksonville State got the run back in the top of the seventh as Sam Eberle's leadoff double off Smith and a single by Waldrip off Varnadore made the score 7-3 Gamecocks. A wild pitch moved Waldrip to second where he stood with two outs as Underwood stepped to the plate. Hitting a blooper to right field that fell in for a single, he pushed across the eighth run of the game for Jacksonville State to give the visitors a seemingly commanding lead.

The Tigers had other ideas however as they began to chip away in the bottom of the seventh. Glevenyak started it off with a single to left field and the shortstop moved to second on an Austin strikeout. Moving to third on a Bobby Andrews failed bunt attempt, Glevenyak scored on a pinch hit double by Zach Alvord to make it 8-4 Gamecocks.

A walk to Gonzalez put a pair of runners on base for Simpson facing reliever Travis Stout and it proved to be the wrong move for JSU as the senior drilled a double into the gap in right field to score two runs and make it an 8-6 game. Tella followed with a double, his third hit of the game, to push across Simpson and cut the lead down to just one. A Justin Bryant pop up ended the inning as the Tigers inched closer.

Jacksonville State closer Todd Hornsby came on to shut down Auburn in the eighth inning on just six pitches and got the first two outs in the ninth on just three pitches to bring Gonzalez to the plate with the Tigers' last shot. Doing his job as a leadoff man, the speedy right fielder worked a walk to bring Simpson to the plate with a chance to tie it or win the game for Auburn. Ripping a single under the glove of Waldrip at first, Simpson put runners on first and third for Tella.

Pitching carefully to a guy already with three hits, Hornsby walked Tella to bring Bryant to the plate with the bases loaded and the chance to give himself the win on the mound. Instead a ground ball to shortstop thwarted the Auburn comeback. It was the 32nd career save for Hornsby to set the OVC career record.

The Tigers will return to action Thursday-Saturday when they face the Florida Gators in a three-game series at Plainsman Park. Game times for the series are 6 p.m. on both Thursday and Friday and 1 p.m. on Saturday.

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