“We’re disappointed to get this loss,” the senior second baseman said. “We have to come out tomorrow with a different attitude, execute and find a way to win and continue to win and see how many games we can win in this thing and, hopefully, win it.”
The scowl on Simpson’s face betrayed more reality than his words as the Tigers (30-27) face today’s 4:30 p.m. elimination game against Georgia.
Auburn came into the SEC tourney as the No. 10 and final seed in the expanded bracket. At No. 56 in the WarrenNolan.com RPI, the Tigers are the 10-highest-ranked team in the SEC.
A year after finishing 29-29 and finishing one victory short of eligibility (one game over .500) for the NCAA tournament, Auburn stands eligible this year but likely needs to play its way in. Tuesday’s start didn’t help.
Auburn managed just three hits against Florida starter Jonathon Crawford (5-2), who struck out a career-high nine batters in 5 2/3 innings of work. Of Auburn’s three hits, only shortstop Dan Glevenyak’s double to lead off the top of the ninth reached the outfield.
Ryan Tella reached on a bunt single in the first inning, and Bobby Andrews beat out a grounder to first base in the third.
“They executed pitch after pitch,” Auburn coach John Pawlowski said. “They were very good at locating their fastball — which they have tremendous arms, tremendous arm strength — and they have out pitches.
“When you have fastball command, and you have the ability to put people away? That’s what they’ve got.”
Auburn, meanwhile, went with two of its top pitchers in starter Jon Luke Jacobs (5-4) and Slade Smith, and No. 2 Florida (40-16) still came up with 10 hits. All six runs were earned.
“We faced two good pitchers tonight, and their numbers (on the season) prove that,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “I’m pleased with where we are offensively. We have work to do, like everybody else, but 10 hits is 10 hits.”
Florida blew the game open with three runs in the sixth inning, after Pawlowski faced a key pitching decision.
He came to the mound with Auburn down 2-1 and Jacobs facing a 2-0 count to Casey Turgeon, with runners on first and second bases and one out. Brian Johnson and Daniel Pigott had reached on singles.
Pawlowski let Jacobs continue.
“I didn’t think the balls were hit very hard off of him,” Pawlowski said. “The first one was a ball to center field, and he’s a guy that’s been out there, that went out there, and he’s got a ton of confidence. We have confidence in him.”
Turgeon ripped a 2-run double on the next pitch, prompting Pawlowski to call Smith out of the pen. Justin Shafer added a two-out single off of Smith to score Turgeon and make it 5-1.
“I asked him (Jacobs) if he felt good, and he said he did,” Pawlowski said. “I felt confident in where we were at, and it just didn’t work out.”
Pawlowski said left-hander Daniel Koger (3-5, 3.42) will start today, and the Tigers could get some work from Derek Varnadore (4-7, 4.97), who started in this past weekend’s series against Florida after having moved to the pen.
“We definitely have some work to do,” Simpson said. “We’re disappointed with this loss.”
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576. Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.