It didn’t take 10 innings for the Rebels to eke out a 10-7 victory like it did on Friday in the loser’s bracket of the Southeastern Conference tournament.
Actually it might have taken a lot longer, though. Like forever.
Auburn dominated the final two games of the regular season-ending series, outscoring Ole Miss 29-5.
“They played so well (last time),” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said, “if we’d played well, I don’t know that it would have mattered.”
But when it mattered — facing elimination and prospects of hosting an NCAA regional next weekend — Auburn played exactly the opposite of the team that dominated the Rebels on the road to lock up the SEC West.
Miscommunication in a mishmash outfield, fielding miscues on routine balls among their season-high five errors, a patchwork offensive lineup without Brian Fletcher and Trent Mummey, the hero just a game ago — all of that little stuff had a lot to do with Auburn leaving Hoover holding just one win.
One of the bigger reasons, though, Auburn coach John Pawlowski and players pointed to was the Ole Miss pitching staff.
“The adjustments they made to the way they pitched us (last time) — they executed pitches,” said Auburn’s Hunter Morris, the SEC’s Player of the Year. “We battled pretty well to come back when we did.
“To be able to put seven runs on the board against one of the best pitching staffs in the country, it’s reassuring.”
After starter David Goforth went forth to the dugout early, Ole Miss’ bullpen was strong. Matt Crouse struck out eight in his four innings of work.
The trio that followed — Trent Rothlin, Matt Tracey and Brett Huber — allowed only one hit in 3 2/3 innings of work. Overall, Ole Miss walked just four as it advanced to play LSU today at 9:30 a.m.
Auburn will wait to learn its postseason fate with the NCAA Selection Show, which will air on Monday on ESPN at 11:30 a.m.
What Auburn did do, though — as Morris said — was battle, perhaps a carryover of its 12-inning victory on Thursday.
After arguably the SEC’s best offense went dormant in its first league-tournament appearance in seven years — four runs in 21 innings — except for the 10th inning, Auburn manufactured runs when it needed them.
Ole Miss, which admitted it had something to prove after getting manhandled at home, had three runs after three innings. A Tony Caldwell home run gave the Tigers three runs in the bottom of the third.
The Rebels posted another in the fourth.
Auburn answered in the fifth as Caldwell took advantage of Ole Miss’ only errors of the game.
Then as the game was getting into the closing stages and lightening popping around Regions Park, Auburn answered Ole Miss’ three-run flurry in the seventh, ensuring rain wouldn’t be the reason they went home.
With the top of its order up, Dan Gamache walked and Caldwell singled behind them. Then Morris homered — his 21st of the season — on a 1-0 pitch to tie the score again. Morris led the Tigers, going 2-for-5 with three RBIs. Caldwell was 3-for-4 with three runs scored.
In the final inning, though, there were no extra-inning heroics left in the Tigers’ tank.
With the bottom of the lineup up, Auburn went quietly with two free passes, two strikeouts and a routine 4-3 play to end the game.
“Obviously, we didn’t play at a high championship level,” Pawlowski said. “At this time of the year, no matter who you play, you need to play at a high level, and we didn’t do that.”
Bran Strickland is the sports editor for The Star. He can be reached at 235-3570.