Eastern Illinois 11, Auburn 10: March Madness strikes Plainsman Park

Auburn's Damek Tomscha scores Auburn's 4th run of the fifth inning Friday. Auburn baseball vs Eastern Illinois on Friday, March 1, 2013 in Auburn, AL. - Todd Van Emst

Auburn's defense and pitching let a 7-5, two-outs-in-the-ninth lead slip away as the Panthers drop the Tigers to 6-3.

Surely hoping for no less than a sweep in the series, Auburn started Daniel Koger for the third time this season, facing him off against Eastern Illinois' Matt Borens. Again, Koger took a no-decision, as the Tigers fell apart in the ninth inning of an 11-10 loss.

The game opened calmly, with a pair of three-up, three-down frames for both sides, and the second brought a few strikeouts and a caught stealing (of Auburn's Damek Tomscha), before the Panthers took the lead 1-0 in the third.

Auburn answered with a two-run double from Cullen Wacker in the fourth that gave the Tigers a lead they'd hold for almost the rest of the game. Auburn's bottom of the fifth chased Panther starter Borens with two outs after posting four runs in the inning, and the Tigers got one more off reliever Luke Bushur. The big fourth saw Auburn bat around with eleven plate appearances and came courtesy of a couple of walks and (finally) steals, five hits and an error, with Jordan Ebert, Ryan Tella, Tomscha and Garrett Cooper bringing the runners home.

The sixth opened with a walk, fielder's choice, single and double that got head coach John Pawlowski to pull Koger 78 pitches into a 5 1/3 IP start with a 7-2 lead. Unfortunately, Reid Carter will be disappointed with a relief outing that saw him face four batters, allow all of his inherited runners to score and get only one out. Brant Valach got the most productive hit of the Panthers' inning, driving in three with a bases loaded double. Trey Cochran-Gill eased the flames by getting a groundout to third to strand the final two runners of the inning, and Auburn still was ahead, 7-5.

Conner Kendrick pitched Auburn's eighth and gave way to Terrance Dedrick, looking for his second save of the season. After a walk and two strikeouts in the ninth, things fell apart for Dedrick and the Tigers' D. Between Dedrick and Jay Wade, four ninth inning walks were issued, throwing away a lot of the goodwill from the bullpen's outstanding start in 2013.

The meltdown culminated when the Panthers' No. 3 hitter, Treysen Vavra, hit a two-out, bases-loaded pop up into right field that should have nestled comfortably in Ebert's glove, but instead fell to the ground, and three runs scored, putting Eastern Illinois ahead for good. The Panthers scored a total of six runs in the top of the ninth, taking an 11-7 lead.

Auburn got four straight hits to open its ninth and plated three runs, but a fielder's choice bunt, RBI ground out and a fly out ended the game with Auburn falling, 11-10.

Auburn went 2-of-3 stealing on the base paths, got a fairly decent start from Koger and hit well enough to put ten runs on the board, but the bullpen's woes and yet another crucial error in the field ruined a lot of the positives that could have been gleaned from this game.

Lefty Michael O'Neal is looking for his third win of the season Saturday at 3 p.m., facing off with Panther ace Joe Greenfield, coming off a complete game shut out against Alcorn State and being named OVC Pitcher of the Week.

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