SMITHS STATION, Ala. -- For five innings Saturday afternoon, the Smiths Station Panthers were able to dodge the bullets the Auburn Tigers were throwing at them.
Despite being outhit by the Tigers, Smiths Station led Auburn, 6-2, in the third game of their Class 6A second-round playoff series and the Panthers appeared poised to move on to next week's quarterfinals.
However, the Tigers (19-18) kept hitting and finally broke through with six runs in the top of the sixth to earn an 8-6 victory over the second-ranked Panthers (34-9) and continue their postseason run.
"Auburn just kept putting the ball in play and putting pressure on us," said Smiths Station coach Clinton Britton. "We never were able to make a play to get out of the inning. They capitalized on the opportunities they had and we didn't get that extra hit when we needed it. We had our chances to put them away and we never did."
Auburn -- which has knocked off area champions in each of the first two rounds of the playoffs -- now hosts No. 6 Fairhope (30-8) in the quarterfinals, which get under way Friday.
Smiths Station got on the board first in the bottom of the first inning when Tyler Lynn and Marc Skinner both doubled, Dylan Tomlin grounded out and Ulysses Fluellen lifted a sacrifice fly to put the Panthers up 2-0 after one frame.
Fluellen did some more damage in the second when he drove a Drew McNay pitch over the left-field wall for a three-run homer that made it 6-0 Smiths Station and the Panthers looked like they were in the driver's seat.
Auburn scored single runs in the third and fifth innings to close to within 6-2 before its big inning. The Tigers had chances to get closer -- pounding out nine hits in the first five innings -- but they stranded six runners and had two innings end on double plays.
In the sixth, Auburn got five straight singles to make it 6-4 and load the bases with no outs for Jacob Drescher, who doubled to clear the bases and give the Tigers a 7-6 lead. After Smiths Station reliever Austin Whitlock -- who took the loss -- retired the next two batters, Jordan Reyes beat out an infield single to bring home Drescher and give the Tigers an 8-6 lead.
Smiths had a chance to tie or win the game in the bottom of the seventh, getting hits from Nick Watford and Caleb Lynn to put runners on second and third with two outs, but pitch-hitter Jeffrey Drury flew out to left field to end the game.
"I hate it for these guys," said Britton. "It's a disappointing way to end the season. We had a great season, but it was disappointing how it turned out."
Scout Price got the win for Auburn out of the bullpen, pitching one-third of an inning, and Will Eiland got the save, allowing no runs on three hits in two innings of work. Auburn's bullpen threw 5 1-3 innings of shutout baseball despite allowing seven hits and hitting three batters.
Blaise Taylor was 4-for-4 with a double and two runs scored, J.J. Shaffer was 2-for-5 with a double and two RBIs, Drescher finished up 2-for-4 with a double and three RBIs, Reyes was 3-for-4 with a double and an RBI, Frank Wager went 2-for-4 with two runs scored and Demikyle Holmes was 2-for-4 with a run scored.
Whitlock allowed six runs (all earned) on eight hits with two strikeouts in 2 2-3 innings of relief. Fluellen started and went four-plus innings, giving up two runs on nine hits, before being lifted.
Skinner was 3-for-3 with a double, triple, two RBIs and two runs scored, Fluellen was 1-for-3 with his three-run homer and four RBIs and Whitlock finished the game 3-for-4 with a double.
Saturday at Smiths Station
Class 6A State Playoffs
Auburn 001 016 0 --8 17 2
Smiths 240 000 0 --6 11 1
WP--Scout Price. LP--Austin Whitlock. SV--Will Eiland. Leading hitters--Auburn: J.J. Shaffer 2-for-5, 2B, 2 RBI, Jacob Drescher 2-for-4, 2B, 3 RBI, Jordan Reyes 3-for-4, 2B, RBI, Demikyle Holmes 2-for-4, run, Frank Wager 2-for-4, 2 runs, RBI, Blaise Taylor 4-for-4, 2B, 2 runs; Smiths Station: Marc Skinner 3-for-3, 2B, 3B, 2 RBI, 2 runs, Ulysses Fluellen 1-for-3, 3-run HR, 4 RBI, Austin Whitlock 3-for-4, 2B.
Records: Auburn 19-18, Smiths Station 34-9. Next: No. 6 Fairhope (30-8) at Auburn (Class 6A State Quarterfinals), May 3-4