Fifth-ranked Florida improves to 30-10 and 13-5 in SEC play while number 23 Auburn falls to 25-17, 8-10 in conference action. Auburn Coach Tommy Slater said there is a reason why Florida is in first-place in the SEC standings at the moment and they showed it this weekend.
“They’re very good,” Slater said. “They are the best team in the league. Obviously they’re in first place for a reason. They are very athletic and they defend the field extremely well. Their pitchers fill up the strike zone. That was clearly evident today. My concern coming into the weekend was our ability to defend against them and that showed up today. We played really poorly on defense. I thought we pitched pretty well.”
Despite a solid outing from starter Cliff Mullins (4 IP, 5 H, 3 ER) and relievers Jared Shore, John Madden and Michael Nix, Auburn couldn’t overcome a rash of defensive errors and the failure to come up with the clutch hit seemingly all weekend. On Sunday the Tigers committed four errors and twice left runners in scoring position, something that first baseman Karl Amonite said was too much to overcome against a good team like Florida.
“Losing the series is really tough and you want to come out at least winning one of the three at the worst,” Amonite said. “The Gators are a really good team. We battled and there was nothing else we could do. We played the way we should have. We made a couple of errors that came back to hurt us, but that’s just the game of baseball. Unfortunately it worked out for the Gators and not for us.”
Amonite's seventh home run in the first inning gave Auburn a 3-0 lead but the Tigers wouldn't score the rest of the way. It was the second consecutive day that Auburn scored in the first, but failed to score again.
At the plate freshman Josh Donaldson led the way for the Tigers with three hits on a day when Auburn had just seven hits as a team. Auburn got on the board first in Sunday’s game thanks to a resurgence of power from Amonite. With just one home run in SEC play the big first baseman came to the plate looking for a pitch to drive and got it. Following back-to-back walks to Clete Thomas and Josh Bell with one out in the inning, Ball went right after Amonite. Pushing the count full he tried to sneak a breaking ball past the big senior, but Amonite drove it deep over the right field wall for the early three-run lead.
Mullins kept the Gators under wraps until the third inning when the long ball would again pay dividends for Florida. Following Auburn’s lead, the Gators earned back-to-back walks off Mullins with nobody out in the inning. Facing the weekend’s big hitter Matt LaPorta, Mullins did a great job by getting him to pop up to Tyler Johnstone at second base for out number one. That brought Brian LeClerc to the plate looking to do some damage and he did just that with a long home run over the right field wall to tie the game at three.
Both teams failed to get on the board again until the seventh inning when a familiar name to Auburn fans came up big for the Gators. With one out in the inning Madden coaxed LaPorta into a ground ball up the middle that was just out of the reach of shortstop Adam Stacey. Auburn then brought Nix in to face LeClerc and he delivered again, this time singling into left field to put a runner into scoring position with one out. A ground ball to second base moved both runners over with two outs for Jeroloman. The younger brother of former Auburn shortstop Chuck Jeroloman, he lined a single into left-center that scored both runs and gave the Gators a 5-3 lead heading to the bottom of the seventh. Florida added another run in the eighth inning and held on for the 6-3 victory to win its sixth straight game over Auburn. Amonite said that while the weekend didn’t turn out like Auburn had hoped there are some positives to take into next week.
“There are some positive things that we can take out of this weekend and carry on to Tuesday against Samford and this weekend against South Carolina,” Amonite said. “We got after them every day. There were some things that we didn’t do well, but there were some things that we did. We’re going to take those positive things and carry them into this weekend.”
Auburn returns to action Tuesday night April 26 when the Tigers take on Samford at 7 p.m. on 25-cent hot dog night at Plainsman Park. Next weekend the Tigers travel to South Carolina for a three-game series.