By Arnie Leshin
Unranked Auburn was hanging on, hanging on, seeking to get past 4th ranked Mississippi State to continue on its magical run out of the 64-school field to the biggest stage of the Division I Baseball Tournament, the World Series at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb.
Yes, here the Tigers were, in the Elite Eight, and looked good getting in front of the Bulldogs and getting good pitching, which is why they led 3-0 after 4 and one-half. They also held on after Mississippi State scored its first run in the bottom of the fourth.
But starting pitcher Jamie Owens had already thrown 88 pitches after five frames, and Auburn (38-27) had to call on the bullpen. At the same time, the Bulldogs (52-13) had the same decision to make in taking out starter Ernie Small after five innings and 102 thrown pitches. He gave up three hits, and struck out eight. Owens, in turn, whiffed one and yielded six hits.
The only bad news there came when second reliever Lou Lisett gave up a run in the ninth to put Mississippi State behind 4-1. After the Tigers scored, he was preplaced by Chris Gordon who fanned the side, gave up one hit, and also gained the win while Anburn’s Timmy Burns pitched the ninth and suffered the defeat.
The Bulldogs did battle back in their last at-bat, but the Tigers helped. Their infielders made wild throws, twice making bad plays on a pair of inside hits, including going to the wrong bases. In fact, the winning run sped home via an infield hit that should have been cut off, but it was two out and the runner just kept dashing home as his third base coach waved him on.
Ernie Julien had batted home three Tiger runs on a two-run shot over the fence in left in the second, followed by an RBI single in the fourth. But he also struck out twice. In the ninth, the Bulldogs countered with a pair of doubles, two infield singles, a ground ball RBI, and with the aid of two Auburn miscues.
Now Mississippi State heads into the winner’s bracket, while Auburn drops into the loser’s bracket of double-elimination play. The Bulldogs meet also 1-0 Vanderbilt next, and the Tigers try to survive when they vie with 7th ranked Louisville, which lost 4-1 to the Commodores in game one.