Defensive Miscues, Offensive Struggles: Alabama Baseball Loses Series Opener in Auburn

Despite not having a postseason to play for, Auburn might have crippled Alabama baseball's hosting chances on Thursday.
Alabama right fielder William Hamiter (11) in a game against LSU.
Alabama right fielder William Hamiter (11) in a game against LSU. /

The first Iron Bowl rivalry series of Rob Vaughn's tenure as the Alabama baseball head coach started in sour fashion on Thursday night. The struggling Tigers won the opening game on Senior Day at Plainsman Park, dealing a crushing blow to the Crimson Tide's chances of hosting an NCAA regional and ensuring that Alabama will finish below .500 in regular season SEC play.

Auburn (26-25, 7-21 SEC) shut down its rival's bats all evening long, only using two pitchers and getting a great outing from senior Tanner Bauman. When he was lifted at the start of the seventh inning after 98 pitches, reliever Will Cannon took his team the rest of the way. Together, they held the Crimson Tide to only two runs in the 4-2 victory.

"We just didn't have enough consistent at-bats one through nine," Vaughn said. "They [Auburn] were able to set some stuff up and cash in on their opportunities."

The home team got on the board first. The first two hitters faced by Crimson Tide starter Greg Farone reached, and one scored: cleanup hitter Cooper McMurray hit a sacrifice fly to bring home leadoff man Chris Stanfield. The Tigers added another run in the third inning on a fielder's choice that scored right fielder Ike Irish. Critically, Alabama missed an opportunity to finish turning a double play back in the first inning which indirectly led to the first run of the contest.

Farone settled in from that point on, finishing his day with a season high in total pitches (106) and going 5.2 innings. Vaughn brought him back out for the sixth inning despite a high pitch count, undoubtedly hoping to stretch the starter in a big series opener with the conference tournament on the horizon. Alas, another defensive lapse resulted in Auburn's third run, the one that would chase him from the game.

The Auburn hitter who led off the inning, second baseman Caden Green, sent a fly ball in the direction of right field. Crimson Tide second baseman Max Grant, replacing Bryce Eblin on the lineup card for the second consecutive game, went way out to try and get the ball and wound up colliding with right fielder William Hamiter. The ball dropped, and Green ended up at second base. He would go on to score on a Deric Fabian double with two outs.

Prior to that run crossing the plate, Alabama (32-20, 12-16 SEC) had slashed the deficit to 2-1 in the fourth inning with an RBI single by third baseman Gage Miller. It was a big two-out hit for an offense that didn't have much going for it at that juncture. Runs remained hard to come by thanks to the performance put up by the Auburn pitching staff, a unit which has had its difficulties this season. The Crimson Tide got Green's run back in the top of the seventh when Hamiter singled home pinch hitter Mason Swinney.

It was a 3-2 game heading into the eighth inning, where Eblin finally reappeared and grounded out to retire the side with a man on second base. Auburn then got a two-out solo home run from left fielder Cade Belyeu off Austin Morris in the home half. In the ninth, a single from Justin Lebron was the only thing the Crimson Tide had to offer Cannon. Despite not having qualified to play at the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala., and therefore not playing for a postseason berth, the Tigers delivered a sucker punch to their bitter rival on home field.

For as good as Butch Thompson's team looked on the mound, the Alabama offense did little to disrupt that rhythm. 11 visiting runners were left on base, coupled with a 2-for-9 showing at the dish with runners in scoring position. Farone was tagged with the loss. The 4-2 margin almost seemed daunting after the offensive performance, even as the top of the order was due up in the final inning. Shortstop Justin Lebron had a three-hit day and a walk, but apart from catcher Mac Guscette (who scored the first Crimson Tide run of the contest), he was the only visiting player with multiple hits.

"They were just better than we were tonight," said Vaughn. "We have to get back to work and get better tomorrow.”

The loss could spell the end of Alabama's chances at hosting a postseason regional for the second consecutive year. The Crimson Tide entered the series likely needing a sweep going into play in Hoover, and that is now out of the realm of possibility, regardless of how many runs the offense can score over the next two games. Both teams hosted at their respective venues last season, and it seems now that neither side will this season. Alabama can still win the rivalry series with wins Friday and Saturday, which would mark its second straight SEC series win. Auburn has only won one all season, which was clinched May 12, but a win Friday would also mark the Tigers' second straight victorious league series.


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Will Miller

WILL MILLER

Will Miller is a senior at the University of Alabama. He has experience covering a wide array of Crimson Tide sports, including football, baseball, basketball, gymnastics and soccer. He joined BamaCentral in the spring of 2023 and is also a freelance UFC interviewer.