COLUMBIA, Mo. – Sweeps at the hands of LSU and Vanderbilt, both ranked in the top five nationally, to start the season were damaging. A home series loss to Alabama was damaging.
Michael O'Neal pitched a complete game in the opener but suffered his first loss since March 23.
But Sunday was the worst day of Auburn’s baseball season.
The Tigers, just beginning to have a glimmer of hope of squeezing into an NCAA regional, fell hard against struggling Missouri. They were swept 3-1 and 4-1 in a doubleheader, and their regional hopes all but vanished. Even getting into the 12-team Southeastern Conference Tournament is not a given.
Missouri has spent most of the season trying just to achieve mediocrity. And now, at 15-24 overall and 7-14, it has tied Auburn for 11th place and has the tiebreaker.
Auburn coach John Pawlowski, whose chances of returning for a sixth season took a big hit Sunday, watched his team fall to 25-18 and 7-14. The Tigers fell a half game behind Texas A&M and lead 13th-place Tennessee by just one game and last-place Georgia by 2 ½ games.
“Today was a dismal day offensively,” Pawlowski said. “Not many quality at-bats. A lot of easy outs today. Not a lot of balls hit hard.”
With series remaining against No. 18 Ole Miss and No. 15 Arkansas at home and against Florida on the road, the Tigers would almost certainly have to win seven out of nine to be a candidate for a regional.
After Auburn won 3-1 Friday night, Saturday’s scheduled game was rained out, setting up a doubleheader of two seven-inning games. And once again, on the final day of the series, Auburn’s bats went silent. In their last six SEC series, the Tigers have scored two runs one time, one run four times and been shut out twice on the final day.
In Sunday’s second game, they loaded the bases with one out in the top of the seventh, but left the runners stranded. In SEC play, Auburn hitters are 0-for-19 with the bases loaded.
Missouri starter Brett Graves (1-5) earned his first win of the season, allowing just one unearned run in five innings of the second game. He held Auburn to three hits and walked two while striking out one.
Reliever Justin Camp (4-1) took the loss for Auburn, allowing a tie-breaking home run to Keaton Steele as part of Missouri’s three-run fourth.
Auburn took advantage of a passed ball to take a 1-0 lead in the third. Hunter Kelley and Kody Ortman walked and were moved into scoring position by a Dan Glevenyak sacrifice bunt. Graves’ pitch then eluded catcher Dylan Kelly and went all the way to the backstop, allowing Kelley to score.
Missouri answered in the bottom half of the inning as it loaded the bases on three straight singles, knocking Auburn starter Daniel Koger out of the game. Camp came in and got a double play out of Dillon Everett, but a run scored to tie the game at 1-1.
Camp surrendered a leadoff home run to Steele to start the fourth, giving Missouri a 2-1 lead. The home run was Steele’s fourth of the season and second of the weekend. Missouri wasn’t done in the inning, however, drawing a pair of walks on either side of a sacrifice bunt, ending Camp’s afternoon. Chase Williamson came in and, after getting an out, allowed a two-out, two-run bloop single to Shane Segovia to put Auburn down 4-1.
Missouri scored three runs in the third inning of the opener on two singles, two hit batters and a sacrifice fly. It would get no more off Auburn ace Michael O’Neal, but it would need no more.
The loss was the first for O’Neal (8-3) since March 23 at LSU. It also marked Auburn’s first loss in the second game of a SEC series since O’Neal’s loss at LSU.
Keaton Steele (4-2) threw a complete game for Missouri, scattering six hits and a walk while striking out two, allowing a run.
Auburn took a 1-0 lead in the first on Garrett Cooper’s RBI single to right, which scored Ryan Tella after he walked to lead off the game.