HOOVER, Ala. - Auburn held off a late charge by Georgia and eliminated the Bulldogs from the SEC Tournament, posting a 3-2 win at Regions Park Wednesday.
The question now is, is there any way the Bulldogs can still earn a spot in the NCAA Tourney?
"We play in a very tough league, the toughest in the country and we beat everybody at least once, but now it's out of our hands," said head coach David Perno. "I would love for this team to get a shot, but like I said, we can't control that anymore."
Auburn (31-27) grabbed a 1-0 lead in the first. Jay Gonzalez led off the game with a walk and then registered his SEC-leading 29th stolen base. Bulldog senior Michael Palazzone retired the next two Tigers before Justin Bryant drew a walk. First baseman Patrick Savage lined a single under the glove of Palazzone and in to centerfield to score Gonzalez. Then, he came back to strike out Zach Alvord to keep it a one-run affair.
Georgia (31-26) missed a chance to answer in its half of the first as Curt Powell drew a walk and Levi Hyams extended his hitting streak to eight games with a single. Next, Kyle Farmer moved both in to scoring position with his first sacrifice bunt of the year. Auburn freshman left-hander Daniel Koger battled back to retire junior designated hitter Brett DeLoach on a pop out to first and got freshman Hunter Cole to fly out to end the threat.
Gonzalez struck again in the third with a leadoff bloop single, another stolen base plus an errant throw by catcher Joey Delmonico allowed him to get to third. Creede Simpson made it 2-0 with an RBI-groundout. Later in the frame with two outs, designated hitter Justin Bryant smashed a 3-2 offering over the left field wall for his fourth home run and a 3-0 Tiger lead.
With two on and one out in the top of the fifth, Georgia made the move to the bullpen, bringing in junior Blake Dieterich. Palazzone allowed three runs on six hits with three walks and four strikeouts in 4.1 innings to fall to 2-7. Dieterich retired the first two Tigers he faced to keep it a three-run deficit. With two on and one out in the sixth, Auburn went to its bullpen as Derek Varnadore came in for Koger. He retired Colby May on a fly out and Delmonico on a groundout to keep Georgia off the scoreboard. Koger tossed 5.1 shutout innings, scattering seven hits with one walk and one strikeout to improve to 4-5. Dieterich provided three scoreless innings with three strikeouts before leaving with one on and one out in the eighth. The Bulldogs called on freshman Pete Nagel who kept the Tigers from adding to their lead and wound up pitching 1.2 scoreless innings.
In the eighth, Georgia broke through against the Tigers. With one out, Cole drew a walk and Verdin singled. After a deep fly ball by May allowed Cole to advance to third, freshman pinch-hitter Nelson Ward came through with an RBI-single. It snapped an 0-for-29 stretch by the Bulldogs with runners in scoring position including 0-for-16 in the SEC Tournament. Then, Welton followed with another RBI-single and suddenly it was a one-run contest. Auburn designated hitter and closer Justin Bryant came on and struck out Powell to maintain the Tigers lead.
Nagel pitched a perfect ninth and Georgia mounted one last comeback attempt. With one out, Farmer smashed a triple to right center. With the infield in, Bryant got DeLoach to ground out to shortstop as Farmer had to hold. Cole drew a walk and moved into scoring position with a stolen base. Verdin worked the count full and then reached on a walk to load the bases for May. Auburn moved their outfielders in for a potential play at the plate on a base hit. May squared up Bryant's first offering and the line drive was caught by Bobby Andrews to end the contest. Georgia left 14 on base.
"This was another tough one, and again we had our chances to score and didn't until the very end and came up short," said Georgia coach David Perno. "You play all season to get to the SEC Tournament, and once you get here, you want to stay a while and have a chance to win it."