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Meltdown on the mound

AUBURN – In a stunning ninth-inning pitching meltdown, Auburn’s baseball team lost a chance to complete a sweep over Georgia on Sunday and lost what would have been a share of first place in the Southeastern Conference West.

Slade Smith went six innings, but Auburn's bullpen couldn't hold on.

Slade Smith went six innings, but Auburn's bullpen couldn't hold on.

Leading 11-5 going into the ninth inning at Plainsman Park, the Tigers needed just three outs to finish off an epic weekend. Instead, they were left trying to understand an epic collapse.

Georgia scored nine runs on just three hits to steal a 14-11 victory before a stunned Mother's Day crowd of 3,080,

It wasn’t Kyle Farmer’s two-out grand slam off Sean Ray that lost the game for Auburn. It wasn’t Chase Davidson’s one-out three run homer either. No, Auburn lost this game because of five walks, two with the bases loaded, and a hit batter in the ninth inning alone.

For the game, Auburn pitchers walked 12 hitters and hit one. Another runner reached on an error, adding up to 14 free baserunners for Georgia.

Ray met with reporters. Wallen would not.

“It’s our job to pitch,” Ray said. “Our defense can’t work unless we throw strikes. There is no excuse for (six) free passes in the ninth inning.”

Instead of being in a three-way tie for first with Alabama and Arkansas, Auburn (25-22, 11-13) is in a three-way tie for third with Ole Miss and Mississippi State. The Tigers have the tiebreaker on Ole Miss, but were swept at Mississippi State.

Here’s how it happened in the ninth:

Closer Dillon Ortman started the inning by walking pinch hitter Lance Martin, a .125 hitter on a 3-2 count. Farmer walked on a 3-2 count and both adv aced on a wild pitch. Zach Cone grounded out, but it was only a temporary respite. Davidson launched a 1-0 pitch over the centerfield fence for his second home run of the day to cut the deficit to 11-8.

Ethan Wallen replaced Ortman and promptly walked Jonathan Hester on a 3-1 pitch. Pinch hitter Curt Powell was hit by a pitch on a 3-2 count. Carson Schilling singled to load the bases. Kevin Ruiz walked on a 3-1 pitch, driving in a run.

Sean Ray replaced Wallen and walked Levi Hyams on a 3-2 pitch to drive home another run. Suddenly, Auburn’s lead was down to 11-10. Ray struck Powell out looking and Auburn was an out away from escaping. But Farmer launched a grand slam far over the left field fence on a 1-0 count.

A double play in the bottom of the ninth ended it.

Auburn pitchers had their best performances of the season in a 5-3, 11-inning victory Friday and a 3-0 win Saturday. Staked to an 8-0 lead in the first inning, starter Slade Smith gave up four runs on five hits in his six innings of work. He struck out seven. Zach Blatt gave up a run and a hit in one inning but left after walking the leadoff hitter in the eighth.

It got ugly from there.

“Every guy we sent out there, his main job was to throw strikes,” Auburn coach John Pawlowski said. “They were trying so hard to do that. It just wasn’t meant to be.”

Auburn plays at Samford on Tuesday night and at home against Alabama State on Wednesday before hosting Alabama for the biggest series of the season next weekend.

Creede Simpson’s three-run homer was the big blow in auburn’s big first inning. Casey McElroy was 4-for-5 and Kevin Patterson 3-for-5 as the Tigers added single runs in the fifth, seventh and eighth and outhit the Bulldogs 15-9. None of it was enough to overcome the meltdown on the mound.

Georgia improved to 25-23 overall and 14-10 in the SEC.

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