SMITHS STATION, Ala. — After four consecutive victories over its area rival this season, the Smiths Station baseball team finally fell victim to Auburn.
Luckily for the Panthers, it came after it had already won the first game of the best-of-three series in the opener of a doubleheader, 9-4. The Tigers responded for a 5-3 win in the nightcap to force game three on Saturday.
It will be win-or-go-home for both teams when they play at 1 p.m. at Smiths Station’s home field.
“We always want to win every game,” Panthers coach Clinton Britton said after the game. “It’s hard to beat a good team five times in a row, though. We’ve got to come back tomorrow and take care of business.”
After winning the first game, Smiths Station took an early lead with two runs in the first inning of game two. After Tyler Lynn was hit by a pitch and Dylan Tomlin singled, Nick Watford drove in a run with a groundout and Austin Whitlock knocked an RBI single.
Auburn tied the game in the third on a two-RBI double by Cooper Flanagan, but Smiths Station immediately retook the lead with a run in the fourth.
Auburn’s offense finally put things together against starter Kyle Drury, who had recorded seven strikeouts through four innings.
Back-to-back singles and an error brought the first run of the inning across, and a two-RBI single by J.J. Shaffer gave the Tigers a lead. Pitcher John Allen Grubbs protected the lead with three consecutive shutout innings to end the game.
It could have been a two-game sweep for Auburn if not for Smiths Station’s ability to come back in game one.
Pitching their ace, Marc Skinner, in the opener, the Panthers fell behind 4-0 in the first inning when an error with two outs in the inning resulted in two runs. Two more came across on three straight singles before Skinner got out of the inning with a strikeout. All total, the Tigers sent nine men to the plate, recording four hits and scoring four unearned runs.
Like last week against Sidney Lanier, however, the Panthers regained their composure and slowly chipped away at the lead. They scored two in the second, one in the third and took their first lead of the game with two runs in the fifth.
“We just tried to scratch and claw back,” Britton said.
With the game still in the balance, Smiths Station put to rest all doubt in the bottom of the sixth inning when it brought four runs across the plate.
After a flyout to begin the inning, Chance Osborne singled and Lynn moved him to second on a bunt. Back-to-back RBI doubles by Skinner and Tomlin made it 7-4, and Uylesses Fluellen put one over the right field wall for a two-run homer to make it a five-run lead. Watford singled, but a fielder’s choice ended the inning without any further damage.
“We had some good at-bats (that inning),” Britton said. “We did a good job of putting the ball in play.”
After the four-spot in the first inning, Panthers ace Skinner was dominant. He didn’t allow another run the rest of the game and finished with a complete-game win. He struck out seven in the game.
Fluellen was the leader at the plate, finishing the first game 4 for 4 with a double, a homer and three RBIs. Skinner and Tomlin with both 2 for 4 with a double and an RBI and Austin Whitlock was 2 for 4 with an RBI.
All total, the Panthers outhit the Tigers 13-7 in the opener and won despite three errors in the field.
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571; Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports.