HOOVER — Auburn scrambled, kicking up dirt, reaching for the ball — the Tigers’ tournament life — rolling free just a few feet away but so far out of reach.
There was a rush and a scramble, then a hurried, errant throw.
When Auburn looked up again, it was over.
LSU scored two runs on a series of on-field mistakes by Auburn in the bottom of the ninth, and the purple-and-gold Tigers walked off to win 4-3 Thursday afternoon and eliminate Auburn from the SEC Tournament at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium.
The game-deciding play went down as a wild pitch and a throwing error in the official scorebook.
In real time in Hoover Met, it seemed like Auburn just ran out of arms.
The Tigers had to turn to true freshman Brooks Fuller from Auburn High then, in the bottom of the final frame as AU led 3-2 but with two LSU runners in scoring position and only one out down.
Fuller threw two breaking balls into the dirt. His third pitch then got away from catcher Matt Scheffler, who couldn’t seem to find it as it rolled away from him. First baseman Rankin Woley came in to track it down as the game-tying LSU run crossed home plate, then rushed to throw it home, before that throw sailed wide and rolled away toward the Auburn dugout.
LSU’s second runner charged across home and the huge contingent of purple-and-gold fans in the Hoover Met erupted into celebration.
Auburn was left with a gut-wrenching defeat.
“Unusual, tough way to lose it,” Auburn head coach Butch Thompson said after the game, under the stadium as LSU fans paraded out into concourse and the tournament rolled on.
“I’m disappointed — not mad or sad — that our journey ends here at Hoover,” he said, saying his Tigers did bounce back strong from an 11-1 loss to top-seeded Vanderbilt on Wednesday.
Auburn now awaits its NCAA Tournament fate, to be decided Monday on the NCAA’s selection show. Auburn is 33-24.
LSU moved to 36-23.
“We’ll get back tonight, circle the wagons, keep working and wait for Monday to see where we’re going and start our preparation,” Thompson said.
Jack Owen started for Auburn on Thursday and pitched admirably for the depleted bullpen, after the Tigers burned through seven pitchers Wednesday in that loss to Vanderbilt. In the sixth, Auburn’s usual ninth-inning closer Cody Greenhill came on, for his third outing in five days, and tasked with stretching his effort out over several innings.
He seemed to run out of gas in the ninth when LSU put two runners on, and when Auburn had to turn to Fuller.
On the big stage in the big moment, Auburn’s mistakes led to LSU’s survival.
After Auburn lost to Vanderbilt to go to the losers’ bracket Wednesday, LSU played Mississippi State — with that game going 17 innings well into the night. Mississippi State ultimately won after 3 a.m. Thursday morning.
Fifth-seeded LSU responded in front of its well-traveled fans against Auburn, though, scoring in the bottom of the first to go up 1-0.
It wasn’t until the seventh that Auburn got on the board, but the Tigers came on in a big way, scoring two runs to go up 2-1. Kason Howell singled on an infield chopper to push Rankin Woley across home plate, then Judd Ward curved a shot down past third base and into the corner at left, doubling and scoring Howell all the way from first.
LSU responded to tie it in the bottom of the seventh, but Auburn came up with one more answer, on Eduoard Julien’s go-ahead RBI single to center field.
But that’s when LSU wore down Greenhill, and when Auburn ran out of answers.
“I told the players after the game that there’s a saying in baseball that every day you show up to the field, you’re liable to see something you’ve never seen before,” LSU head coach Paul Mainieri said. “And I can’t recall, in 37 years, that I’ve ever seen a walk-off win with two runs scoring on a short wild pitch like we did.
“But in all honesty, after last night, we’ll take whatever we can get.”
Eighth-seeded Auburn beat ninth-seeded Tennessee on Tuesday to start the tournament, before falling to top-seeded Vanderbilt Wednesday.
LSU moves on to play again Friday.