Auburn’s season comes to a close at SEC Tournament

HOOVER, Ala. – Making its fourth consecutive SEC Tournament appearance under Butch Thompson, Auburn struck first and rallied late but fell to No. 11 Ole Miss 7-4 Tuesday at the Hoover Met, ending the Tigers’ season.

Ryan Bliss wasted no time in getting Auburn (25-27) started with a solo homer to left center field on the second pitch of the game. The home run was Bliss’ third leadoff homer of the season and his 15th overall.

However, Ole Miss (39-17) responded with a leadoff double and evened the score as the baserunner crossed home plate on an error. Auburn starter Jack Owen (2-5) did a good job to avoid further damage as he struck out a pair and induced a flyout to end the frame with the score tied at one.

Ole Miss lefty Doug Nikhazy retired 14 straight after allowing the leadoff homer, and the Rebels took the lead with four runs on five hits in the third.

Auburn scored in the top of the fifth when Nate LaRue drew a two-out walk, advanced to second on Judd Ward’s infield single and scored on Garrett Farquhar’s RBI single.

Auburn’s third pitcher, Carson Skipper, worked a season-high 3.2 innings, striking out a season-best six and retiring 10 straight after allowing a single to the first batter he faced.

“I thought Carson Skipper gave us a chance after Ole Miss scored in the third inning,” Thompson said. “Carson really did a nice job for three frames. We shoved all our chips on the table with our best reliever the last three or four weeks and tried to get back in the ballgame.”

The Tigers rallied in the seventh after Ole Miss went to its bullpen, cutting the deficit to 5-3 on Farquhar’s double to the left-center gap to score Bryson Ware. Bliss followed with a single to left, scoring Farquhar to pull Auburn within a run at 5-4. For Bliss, it was his SEC-leading 27th multi-hit game of the season.

“We hung in there,” Thompson added. “I thought we competed well against a special arm. Ryan Bliss is one of the best players in this conference.”

The Rebels responded in the bottom of the seventh on Hayden Dunhurst’s two-run home run, giving Ole Miss a 7-4 lead. Will Morrison relieved Skipper, recording a strikeout for the inning’s final out.

Cody Greenhill concluded his Auburn career by pitching a scoreless eighth inning.

Auburn (25-27) won three of its last four SEC series to qualify for a fourth straight conference tournament for the first time since 2010-13.

“I told them I appreciate their effort, especially this second half of conference play, in giving us an opportunity to be here tonight, and what they’ve done for our university, especially a lot of these guys who will not be returning for next season,” Thompson said.

“I thought it was one of the best efforts I’ve seen out of young people,” Thompson added. “The resilience kept me going. A lot of these guys like Ryan Bliss and Rankin Woley have raised our bar and our expectations. When we’re sitting 2-13 in the league at the halfway point, for them to have a winning record in the second half says a lot about what they’ve done and what quality people they are with how they were raised, by how they finished.”