Auburn’s players broke the postgame huddle in left and started toward their sanctuary beneath the Plainsman Park before stopping short.
Fans had gathered down the left-field bleachers awaiting the team’s weekly Sunday autograph signing session.
There was no hiding for the Tigers on Sunday as Mississippi State delivered an eight-run seventh inning and rocked Auburn, 12-1, in the series finale to complete a SEC series sweep, outscoring the Tigers, 18-1, during the weekend.
“It stinks,” Auburn senior catcher Blake Austin said simply.
“It just sucks, man. It sucks that I’m a senior and it doesn’t go the way that you want it to go. You try to do everything you can and it just sucks when it doesn’t happen.”
The loss, coupled with Georgia’s 5-3 series-clinching win over South Carolina also Sunday, drops Auburn (25-23, 9-15 SEC) to 13th in the SEC standings, a half a game behind the Bulldogs with two conference series remaining. Only the top 12 teams advance to the SEC Tournament in Hoover.
“It’s a huge blow to any opportunity that we had. We knew we were hanging on by a thread,” first-year Auburn head coach Sunny Golloway said.
“To come in here this weekend and not get a game, it … I don’t even know the word for it, it’s a huge blow to us. There’s no doubt about it.”
It all fell apart in the seventh when the Bulldogs (31-18, 14-10) finally broke through with an eight-run top of the frame, racking up nine hits against three different Auburn pitchers — relievers Jay Wade, Trey Cochran-Gill and Terrance Dedrick. Cochran-Gill surrendered three straight hits if not for a batter’s interference call out against Gavin Collins, who was previously 3-for-3 with a solo home run in the second and two singles.
C.T. Bradford started the frame off with a leadoff triple as the ball bounced in and out of the glove of Tigers right fielder Jackson Burgreen when he collided with the wall. Brett Pirtle followed with an RBI single to center before MSU rolled up three straight one-out hits, including an RBI double by pinch-hitter Alex Getz that made it 5-0 after closer Terrance Goodwin was brought in from the bullpen.
That’s when it got out of hand as Matthew Britton drilled a bases-loaded double to the wall in right-center that cleared the bases to make it 9-0.
In the other dugout, it was more the same Sunday after being dealt back-to-back 3-0 shutouts in the first two games of the series as Auburn’s scoreless streak reached a season-high 29 consecutive innings before freshman slugger Daniel Robert broke it with a solo home run in the seventh. By that point, Mississippi State had already opened the floodgates and lead 11-0 following the eight-run top of the frame.
Mississippi State’s 12 runs and 19 hits were the most allowed by Auburn this season, while its own offense managed just 13 combined hits in the series, never more than the five in Friday night’s loss.
“It’s the at-bats we didn’t take and the at-bats we threw away, you have to put solid contact on every ball,” said Austin, who was 1-for-11 in the series. “If you don’t, walk, get a hit, do something. We didn’t do that this weekend, and it starts with me because I didn’t do it at all this weekend.”
One way Golloway decided to spark his offense was by sitting right-handed hitting Jordan Ebert — the team’s leading hitter with a .358 average — in favor of left-handed Burgreen, who had just one hit in 19 at-bats (.053) entering Sunday.
“We just decided to go with the lefthander today. And even though you look and you say that’s the leading hitter, if you look at his numbers, he’s really cooled off here lately,” Golloway said of Ebert. “He’s dealing with some things as far as adjustments at the plate. It just seems like he’s taking a lot of pitches and then slicing balls the other way.”
Prior to Sunday, Ebert was in the midst of a team-best six-game hit streak over the last two weeks, batting a smooth .304 (7-of-23) to lead the entire Auburn lineup. Without Ebert’s bat, the Tigers’ offense was hitting a paltry .182 in that same stretch of games.
“We were 20-plus inning with not scoring a run, so you can’t be afraid to shake it up a little bit,” Golloway said.
“That leading hitter has been in there the whole time and we still have not been able to score runs. So there’s no reason to leave it alone. You need to try and shake it up a little bit.
“Did it work? No.”
The lone bright spot came from Logan, who drilled a solo home run over the flags in right-center field for the game’s lone run in the weekend.
“He’s a freshman that’s going to be a power bat for us down the road and he’s showing to be a power bat now,” Golloway said of Robert, who was 2-for-4 in the game. “It’s a good example of where we can go from here.”
Alex is the Auburn University Sports Writer for the Opelika-Auburn News.
Follow him on Twitter at @AUBlog for the latest in Auburn Sports.