Alabama falls to Auburn in first game of rivalry series

Kevin Connell

The setting was perfect.

Alabama had its 10th-largest crowd ever on a warm spring night with a chance to extend its lead in the Southeastern Conference against its rival, Auburn.

But the result was not.

For the sixth time this season and the second game in a row, No. 9 Alabama fell by a score of 2-1 Friday night against Auburn at Sewell-Thomas Stadium. The Crimson Tide is now 0-2 since it moved into the top 10 in the national polls.

“I thought it was a good college Friday night game in the SEC,” Alabama coach Mitch Gaspard said. “It was hard fought on both sides. Our offense right now, we got to shorten our swings down a little bit and have more competitive at bats.”

In front of a near sellout crowd of 6,069 – its largest home crowd since an April 26, 2008 meeting against Auburn – Alabama had the Tigers arguably right where it wanted them, despite trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth with two outs.

The Crimson Tide had already won six games – including four walk-offs – this season in the ninth inning, so there was hope.

Sophomore third baseman Chance Vincent struck out for what would’ve been the final out, but advanced to first after a wild pitch on the final strike. Freshman Casey Hughston, who was pinch hitting, then singled through the right side to move Vincent to second, putting freshman Hunter Webb up to bat.

Coming into the at bat, Webb had supplied the Crimson Tide’s two most recent ninth-inning winners against Ole Miss and Texas A&M, but this time, he hit a pop fly out to center to end the game.

“As many games as we’ve won late, we always feel confident coming into that last inning that there’s always a chance, that we’re never out,” junior right fielder Ben Moore said. “As good as we play, as bad as we play, we’re always going to compete and make a run at it, so I felt pretty confident that we’d do something there.”

Auburn opened the scoring in the second on Connor Short’s sacrifice fly and Jordan Ebert’s infield single with the bases loaded to take the 2-0 lead.

Alabama responded in the fourth, making it 2-1 on Vincent’s RBI single in a bases loaded inning of its own, but failed to take advantage of its best scoring chance of the night when freshman catcher Will Haynie grounded out into a double play to end the inning in the following at bat.

For the game, Alabama stranded eight runners on base and went three up, three down in four of the nine innings.

“It’s tough to score runs, so when you have those one or two or three opportunities, that’s where you got to deliver that big hit,” Gaspard said. “Those spots are critical now in college baseball.”

Junior right-hander Spencer Turnbull (4-2, 1.81 ERA) struggled with his command, hitting four batters and walking two more, but managed to go a full seven innings with six strikeouts and only four hits allowed.

Freshman reliever Nick Eicholtz allowed no hits but hit and walked one in the final two innings for Alabama.