Now 29-25 overall and just 12-16 in SEC play, Auburn likely needs to win the final two games against the Gators this weekend to have a shot at playing in the NCAA Tournament without winning next week's SEC Tournament. Hoping to get one of those on Thursday night, Coach John Pawlowski said the Tigers ran into a buzz saw in Randall.
"He was outstanding," Pawlowski said. "We didn't get many good looks and didn't square up many balls. You fall behind like that and it makes it tough. I'm just thankful to Jay Wade and the job he did to be able to save our bullpen tonight."
The only bright spot of the night for Auburn was the pitching of the sophomore reliever Wade. After Auburn starter Jon Luke Jacobs allowed five runs on five hits in one and one/third innings, Wade did his best to keep the Tigers in the game after that. Allowing just a run on four hits in six and one/third innings before leaving with a runner on second and two outs in the top of the eighth, Wade saved Auburn's bullpen and that was the extent of the good news for the Tigers.
At the plate Nolan Fontana and Preston Tucker were a combined 6-8 for the Gators and scored four of the six runs on the night. For Auburn only Creede Simpson, Dan Glevenyak and Bobby Andrews managed a hit off Randall. Simpson said sometimes you have to give credit where it's due and that's to the junior Gator hurler.
"He was just doing a good job of hitting his spots and locating," Simpson said. "He had good scouting reports on the whole team and he knew what he wanted to do. He executed his pitches and hats off to him. He pitched his butt off and did a good job for them."
The loss puts the Tigers in serious jeopardy for postseason play even though they have already wrapped up a spot next week in Hoover. Even with series wins over LSU, Mississippi State, Arkansas and LSU this season, Simpson said the team knows what it has to do this weekend.
"We've got to win," Simpson said. "We've got tomorrow and the next day to try to find a way to get two wins. It's a big part of our year right now and it would be huge if we could get two wins and hopefully make a regional and take it to Hoover with some momentum."
It didn't take long for the Gators to assert their dominance on Thursday night as leadoff man Fontana ripped a single on the first pitch of the game from Jacobs as a sign of things to come. Getting ahead of Tucker 1-2, Jacobs came too far inside and hit the senior to put himself in deep trouble. One of the nation's leading hitters, catcher Mike Zunino followed with a single to load the bases with nobody out.
Getting big Brian Johnson on a pop up for the first out of the inning, Jacobs got Daniel Pigott on a fly ball to left field to score Fontana and put the Gators on the board. Bearing down the senior recovered to get Casey Turgeon on a fly ball to end the inning allowing just one run.
Auburn failed to score in the first and that gave Florida the momentum heading back to the plate in the second. Jacobs added some gasoline to the fire when he hit left fielder Justin Shafer to lead off the inning to bring third baseman Josh Tobias to the plate. Hitting just .244 in 86 at-bats with only three extra-base hits, Tobias hit a screamer off the right field wall that send Jay Gonzalez crashing into the Tim Hudson banner in front of the K Corner.
Shafer scored easily on the play and following a lengthy delay to check on Gonzalez, Vickash Ramjit's fly ball pushed him across to make it 3-0. The Gators weren't done though as Fontana's second hit of the game, a double to right field, brought Tucker up with a chance to do some damage. He didn't disappoint the Florida faithful as he connected with a high blast that just cleared the right field wall for his 13th home run of the season. It was his 320th career hit to set a school record and gave Randall a commanding 5-0 advantage to work with.
With Auburn doing nothing at the plate, the Gators added a single run in the fourth on a Tucker sacrifice fly for a six-run lead and Randall continued to deal on the mound. Allowing just two hits to the Tigers before a Andrews single in the eighth inning, Randall's 17-pitch first inning was his longest of the game to that point.
Wade did his best to match Randall pitch for pitch as he kept the powerful Florida offense off balance into the eighth inning himself. Allowing a two-out double to Ramjit, he left as Chase Williamson finished off the inning to keep it a 6-0 score. The freshman got a pop up to end the inning and pitched around a two-out double by Zunino to hold the Gators at a touchdown.
Trying to finish off the complete game, Randall went back to the mound in the ninth inning to face the top of the order for the Tigers. Mowing them down in order, he pitched the first complete game for Florida since he shut down Tennessee last season on just 74 pitches.
Auburn will look to even the series on Friday night at 6 p.m. as freshman Daniel Koger (3-4, 2.76 ERA) takes the mound against Johnson (5-4, 4.29) for the Gators.