The second-ranked and 3-seed Florida baseball team showed why they are one of the favorites to win the College World Series on Tuesday afternoon, downing 10-seed Auburn 6-1 in the SEC Tournament at Regions Park in Hoover, Ala.
Auburn dropped to 30-27 overall on the season.
"Florida pitched extremely well today. We didn't have many opportunities to do a lot offensively today," coach John Pawlowski said. "I thought Jon Luke did a good job early of trying to keep this game in check and one inning they put a couple of runs on the board and it's difficult when they are pitching that well. That was the difference today."
Ryan Tella, Bobby Andrews, and Dan Glevenyak recorded Auburn's only hits on the day, with Andrews scoring the only run. The Tigers only managed to knock four balls out of the infield.
In fact, in four games (36 innings) against Florida this year, Auburn only had 17 hits. Pawlowski gives the credit to Florida for finding ways to shut down one of the SEC's more prolific hitting teams in Auburn.
"They executed pitch after pitch. They have been very good at locating their fastballs. They have tremendous arms, tremendous arm strength. They have tremendous out pitches, they have limited free bases, but they just have some really good high-end arm strength and they've done a great job in the four games against our hitters," said Pawlowski.
Florida started the scoring in the second off back-to-back singles to start the frame. Following a SAC bunt by Casey Turgeon and a strikeout, left-fielder Justin Shafer singled to left field scoring Brian Johnson and Daniel Pigott.
Auburn answered right back in the third as Bobby Andrews legged out an infield single and moved to second as Zach Alvord reached on a throwing error by Gators' shortstop Nolan Fontana. Jay Gonzalez moved the runners over with a SAC bunt and Creede Simpson brought Andrews home on a SAC fly to centerfield.
Both Gators' pitcher Jonathan Crawford and Tigers' starter Jon Luke Jacobs worked through lead-off walks in the fourth inning to toss scoreless frames.
The Tigers threatened again in the sixth with men on first and second and two away. Florida starter Crawford was pulled after a career high nine strikeouts, and reliever Stephen Rodriguez entered the game to face pinch-hitter Cullen Wacker.
Rodriguez struck out Wacker to end the inning. Through six innings, Auburn was 1-12 with runners on base. The Gators used that momentum by Rodriguez to take over the ballgame in the sixth inning.
Florida had back-to-back singles by Johnson and Pigott to send Pawlowski to the mound to talk with Jacobs. The Tigers' head man decided to leave Jacobs in the game and the senior promptly allowed a two-run double to Turgeon to give Florida a 4-1 lead.
Much of Florida's damage on Tuesday was done by the Gators' 4-5-6 hitters of Johnson, Pigott, and Turgeon. Johnson and Pigott had two hits and two runs each, with Turgeon adding one hit, two RBI's, and a run.
"We put ourselves in a tough situation," Jacobs said. "You try to pick your spots to go after guys. You have to tip your hat to the guys in the middle of their lineup that put some swings together and scored some runs for them."
Jacobs was pulled for reliever Slade Smith. Shafer then followed with his second RBI single of the day, driving in Vicklash Ramjit for his third RBI of the game giving Florida a 5-1 lead after six. Florida tacked on their last run in the seventh with a RBI-double by Mike Zunino.
Jacobs took the loss throwing 5.1 innings, while allowing five runs on six hits. Jacobs struck out six and only issued two walks. Smith threw well in relief with four hits and one run in 2.2 innings.
Pawlowski's squad has now placed themselves in a precarious position as they face elimination. The Tigers are on the outside looking in on most NCAA Regional predictions and are still in the high 50's in RPI. Auburn entered the SEC Tournament needing wins and now have to play with their backs firmly against the wall.
"We have to come out with a new attitude," Simpson said. "We just have to come back out and execute and find a way to win. We have to see if we can win some games and win this thing."
Freshman Daniel Koger (3-5, 3.42) will start for Auburn on Wednesday as the Tigers face elimination against Georgia, who fell to Vanderbilt 4-1 on Tuesday night. Auburn was swept at Georgia earlier this season. First pitch is 4:30 p.m. CT.
As for who will be available, Pawlowski said senior Derek Varnadore will be available to throw in relief if needed, despite starting against Florida last Saturday.
Wacker made a pinch-hit appearance in the sixth inning, but Pawlowski said postgame that Wacker is still day-to-day and is working hard to return to the lineup. Andrews is expected to get the start again in left-field. First-baseman Garrett Cooper failed to take batting practice on Tuesday and is not expected to play on Wednesday.