Auburn has no answers for ASU in baseball home opener

Auburn Tigers
Auburn
Auburn
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 Game 4
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 Alabama St.
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 Auburn
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Uconn
Alabama State
(4-1)

By Phillip Marshall

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AuburnTigers.com

AUBURN, Ala. - For Auburn's baseball team, it wasn't supposed to be this way. Not on this day. Not against Alabama State.

But it was.

After an offseason of soaring optimism, the Tigers of first-year head coach Sunny Golloway had no answer for Alabama State. The Hornets came from Montgomery and romped to a 9-3 victory before a crowd of 3,609  in Auburn's home opener.

When the loss was in the books, Golloway acknowledge it was hard to swallow.

"It will be a memorable experience, my home debut," Golloway said. "It will be one I don't forget the rest of my life."

Golloway, since he left Oklahoma, has had Omaha and the College World Series front and center among the goals for his first Auburn team. A 3-2 start, including a historic loss to Alabama State and a 1-0 loss last Saturday to Ohio State, did nothing to change that.

"We're going to play in Omaha," Golloway. "This year. I'm disappointed for our fans. I'm disappointed for our program. We are going to play in Omaha."

Auburn struggled to hit against six Alabama State pitchers, made two errors and had a passed ball. Alabama State got nine hits, including a triple and a double, off pitchers who are expected to be stalwarts against Southeastern Conference teams.

Before Tuesday, Auburn had won all seven previous meetings with Alabama State. But third-year coach Mervyl Melendez, who built a consistent winner at Bethune-Cookman, has changed things at Alabama State. The Hornets lost 2-1 here last season. This time, they broke thorough.

The game was scoreless through five innings, but in the sixth the Hornets finally got to Auburn starter Justin Camp and scored three runs. Auburn got a run in bottom of the inning when Anfernee Grier doubled for Auburn's first extra-base hit of the season, moved to third on Dan Glevenyak's sacrifice and scored on Ryan Tella's sacrifice fly. Blake Austin's two-run double in the seventh cut the ASU lead to 4-3, but two runners were left stranded.

In the top of the eighth, it all came apart for Auburn. The Hornets scored five times on four hits and two Auburn errors. They got to Trey Cochran-Gill and Terrance Dedrick.

Auburn went quietly in the bottom of the eighth and bottom of the ninth. Alabama State had finally done it. It had beaten Auburn.

Camp gave up five runs on three hits, but it was against setup man Tre Cochran-Gill and closer Terrance Dedrick that the game got away. Cochran-Gill gave up three runs on three hits in 1 1/3 innings. Dedrick gave up two runs, both unearned, on one hit in 2/3 of an inning.

And that, Golloway said, will bring some changes on the back end of the pitching staff and perhaps even in the starting rotation.

"We can't elevate the ball and be able to close or bridge the gap," Golloway said. "Those guys have to pitch down in the zone. They have to be able to punch people out. We have to move on. I'm going to tell them we are going to re-evaluate. We're not going to run and hide.

"I don't think we are ready to have Terrance Dedrick close. I don't think Trey Cochran-Gill is our bridge the gap guy right now. Not when you look at a five-run eighth inning. I saw the same thing down in Florida (at the Snowbird Classic)."

But Golloway said one or both could compete for spots in the starting rotation.

Offensively, the Tigers' team batting average fell to .217. Golloway said there has to be a meeting of the minds on the mound, in the field and at the plate.

"They bought in completely in the fall," Golloway said. "I haven't seen much of what we did in the fall. The only stat that matters - I've tried to explain this to our pitching coach and pitchers - it's not about ERA, it's not about how many you strikeout. It's about wins and losses. I've tried to talk to our hitting coach about it's not batting average. It's not sac bunts or drags. It's about winning ballgames. Right now, I'm not sure we're all on the same page - not our coaches, but our players - as to what it is going to take to win."

Auburn returns to Plainsman Park over the weekend for the Tiger Classic, taking on Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Friday, California on Saturday and East Tennessee State on Sunday.

Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: