Rally falls short against Auburn

FAYETTEVILLE – The No. 7 University of Arkansas baseball team came within one score of erasing a five-run deficit but fell to Auburn, 8-7, Saturday afternoon at Baum Stadium. Arkansas (35-9, 14-6 SEC) had runners on second and third with one out in the bottom of the ninth but couldn’t plate the tying run. Auburn (29-15, 11-9 SEC) took control of the game with an eight-run fifth inning and held off the Razorbacks who scored four runs over the final four innings. Brett Eibner hit his 16th home run of the season and Andy Wilkins collected a season-high three hits in the loss.

"We just have to put the bat on the ball a little better with one out in the bottom of the ninth with a runner on third," head coach Dave Van Horn said. "That was the at-bat of the game and we worked hard to get there and it’s disappointing that it didn’t happen for us. But give their pitcher credit because he worked out of a jam."

Trailing by two in the home half of the ninth, Arkansas got two runners on with one out. Zack Cox reached on an error and Eibner singled to left field. Wilkins drove a ball through the middle to bring Cox home and cut Auburn’s lead to one. On the play, Eibner motored all the way around to third and Wilkins took second on the throw; Kyle Atkins came in to pinch run for Wilkins. Monk Kreder followed and flew out to right field but too shallow for Eibner to score. Pinch hitter Tom Hauskey was retired on strikes by Auburn reliever Austin Hubbard to end the game.

On the first pitch of the game, Justin Fradejas dumped a ball into left field and stretched the hit into a double to give Auburn a runner in scoring position with no outs. The Tigers’ leadoff hitter moved to third base after a sacrifice bunt. With one down, Collin Kuhn, starting in right field, gloved a fly ball by Brian Fletcher and then fired a strike to James McCann at the plate to cut down Fradejas trying to score.

The Razorbacks tagged Auburn starter Stephen Kohlscheen for three runs in the first to take an early advantage. Bo Bigham reached on an error and Cox followed by drawing a walk. On the eighth pitch of his at-bat, Eibner belted his second home run in as many games, a three-run shot to left field. It was his seventh home run in the past 10 games and moved him into sole possession of sixth place on Arkansas’ all-time home runs list with 36 career dingers.

Arkansas starter Randall Fant was strong through the first four innings of Saturday’s ballgame, but Auburn broke through with eight runs in the fifth. The Tigers totaled four home runs in the frame, including two long balls by Hunter Morris to bookend the scoring barrage. Fant gave up three home runs, to Morris, Ryan Jenkins and Dan Gamache, before being pulled. Jeremy Heatley entered the game in relief but surrendered four runs, including the second homer to Morris.

DJ Baxendale, the Hogs’ third pitcher, came out of the bullpen to strike out Tony Caldwell for the final out of the inning. The right-handed freshman kept Auburn scoreless on two hits and four strikeouts in 3.2 innings of work Saturday, his longest relief outing of the season.

"DJ gave us everything we asked for," Van Horn said. "He gave us a chance to get back in the game and we did. We had a chance to win it but we just didn’t get the big hit at the end."

The home team tacked on a run in the bottom of the sixth off Auburn reliever Slade Smith. Wilkins led off the inning with a single to right and moved up to second on a groundout by Kreder. With two down, McCann plated Wilkins with an RBI single to right. Smith entered in relief of Kohlscheen to start the second and had held the Razorbacks scoreless until McCann’s base hit.

Arkansas put together a two-out rally in the seventh to shrink its deficit to two runs. Cox singled through the right side to keep the inning alive and Eibner followed with a walk. Wilkins picked up his second RBI of the day with a base hit to right field. Auburn changed pitchers after Wilkins’ hit and brought in Austin Hubbard. Facing Kreder, Hubbard uncorked a pair of wild pitches, the first of which allowed Eibner to score from third. After seven complete, the Tigers led, 8-6.

The two Western Division foes will return to the field Sunday for the rubber game of their weekend series. First pitch is scheduled for 1:07 p.m. as the game will be televised by Cox Sports Television (Ch. 119 in Northwest Arkansas). Mike Nail and Ron Swoboda will handle the play-by-play and color commentary duties for the broadcast. The pitching matchup for Sunday’s finale will pit Brett Eibner (3-3, 4.04 ERA) for the Hogs against Grant Dayton (4-2, 5.14 ERA) for Auburn.