Bulldogs stun Tigers with 9-run 9th-inning rally

Auburn scored eight times in the first inning and took a six-run lead into the ninth but Georgia answered with nine runs

Georgia players sprinted from the dugout and all corners of the field to mob closer Tyler Maloof behind the pitcher’s mound Sunday as Plainsman Park looked on in stunned silence.

Six outs earlier Auburn held a 6-run lead and it was seemingly a sure thing the Tigers would complete a series sweep of the Bulldogs and move into a three-way tie for first in the SEC West with two conference weekends to go.

But, after a complete Auburn meltdown and a 9-run ninth for Georgia, the Bulldogs were the ones celebrating a 14-11 win.

And the Tigers were the ones left wondering what happened.

“It was like two totally different ballgames,” Auburn head coach John Pawlowski said. “The front end, offensively, we did a lot of positive things. Then you flip the game around and in the last inning, they certainly did some things offensively, too.”

The Tigers (25-22, 11-13 SEC) sprinted to an 8-0 lead in the first inning, using eight hits — including a 3-run home run by Creede Simpson — to chase Georgia starter Craig Gullickson after 2/3 of an inning.

Georgia (25-23, 14-10) kept stringing together modest comeback efforts throughout the game but, after a Kevin Patterson RBI single put Auburn up 11-5 going into the ninth, a Tigers sweep seemed well in hand.

Then the ninth inning hit. And strikes — not to mention outs — were hard to come by.

Dillon Ortman started the Bulldog parade around the bases with two walks and a three-run home run to center from Chase Davidson — his second on the game — to pull Georgia within 11-8 with one out.

Exit Ortman.

Enter Ethan Wallen, who walked a batter, hit another, gave up a single and walked Kevin Ruiz to plate another run and bring the Bulldogs within 2, still with one out.

Exit Wallen.

Enter Sean Ray, who surrendered another run on a walk to Levi Hyams to make the score 11-10 but got Lance Martin looking to bring Auburn within an out of the win.

That was before Kyle Farmer took the second pitch he saw well over the green monster in left for a grand slam to give Georgia its final margin and polish off a 9-run, three-hit, five-walk, two-home-run inning.

“The offense did a great job today,” Ray said. “The pitching staff, myself included, just kind of let it slip away.”

Slade Smith, making his first start since March 12, gave up four runs on five hits over the first six innings, striking out seven, walking four and leaving with a comfortable 9-4 lead.

The Tigers’ bullpen took it from there, surrendering 10 runs on only four hits over the final three innings, walking eight and throwing only 49 strikes in 103 pitches.

“Every guy went out there with the goal of throwing strikes, to try and give us what they had,” Pawlowski said. “It just wasn’t meant to be. They’ll regroup. They’ll come back.”

After 4-3 and 3-0 wins over Georgia in the first two games of the series, Auburn looked to have removed all drama from the finale with its explosive first inning.

Justin Fradejas, Dan Gamache and Casey McElroy singled to score a run before Georgia had recorded an out, Wes Gilmer followed with an RBI groundout, Patterson knocked an RBI double, Simpson slapped one over the fence for a 3-run shot and Fradejas drove in the Tigers’ eighth run with his second hit of the inning.

Georgia closed within 5 runs on a two-run homer by Davidson — who hit two home runs and drove in five after coming on as a pinch hitter — but Auburn tacked on two more in the seventh and eighth on singles by Cullen Wacker and Patterson to put the Tigers in plumb position for their second SEC sweep of the year.

That didn’t pan out quite like the home team hoped.

“We’ve got to put this behind us quickly,” Pawlowski said.

Hyams and Zach Cone each had two hits for Georgia, and Maloof (2-1) earned the win after being saddled with the loss Friday.

The comeback spoiled a 4-for-5, two-RBI day from McElroy and a 3-for-5 performance by Patterson, sending Wallen (4-4) to his fourth loss on the year.

After coming within a whisker of the share for the SEC West lead, Auburn now sits in a three-way tie with Ole Miss and Mississippi State for the final two spots in the conference tournament.

The Tigers have a home date with rival Alabama, which is tied with Arkansas a game ahead of them in the West, next week and a road trip to Tennessee, which is 5-19 in the conference, to close out the season.

Pawlowski said he hopes this loss won’t linger.

“We set out to win the series,” Pawlowski said. “But you certainly don’t want to walk off the field in a negative light. And we did.”

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