BY GREGG ELLIS
STARKVILLE – Mississippi State was able to overcome one four-run deficit Saturday afternoon against Auburn.
A second, however, was just too much to ask.
In front of a season-high 11,763 fans at Dudy Noble Field, the No. 5-ranked Tigers evened the weekend series at 1 apiece following an 8-5 victory.
The win was keyed by a three-run seventh, highlighted by Karl Amonite's two-run shot over the rightfield wall.
The rubber match is slated for 1:30 p.m. today and will be televised by Comcast Sports Southeast.
“We just didn't get the key hits in the middle of the game,” said MSU coach Ron Polk, whose team dropped to 25-6-1 overall and back into a first-place tie with LSU in the Western Division standings based on percentage points. “It was a reminder of last week's game against Kentucky. Every time they got someone on base, they found real estate.”
Auburn, which improved to 28-8 and closed within a half game of State at 10-4, collected 14 hits, two more than Mississippi State. Amonite had three, as did Tug Hulett, whose .403 batting average leads the Southeastern Conference.
Steve Gendron led MSU with three hits, including a double in the sixth.
“The had the big inning in the seventh, and we tried to battle back,” said State shortstop Matthew Maniscalco, who was 2-for-6 with a solo shot in the third to lead off the inning. “We had runners in scoring position, but we just couldn't get them in.”
In all, the Bulldogs stranded 14 runners, compared to the Tigers' 8.
Not only did Auburn have a productive seventh, it scored four runs in the third to stake a 4-0 lead. The Tigers' first run was the result of a Hulett triple, while a single by Scott Schade plated two more.
In the bottom of the frame, though, the Bulldogs answered and tied the game on J.B. Tucker's single to left, scoring Craig Tatum and Matthew Brinson.
The score didn't change until the seventh, when Hulett's single up the middle scored Doug Vines.
“Auburn is a great team,” Maniscalco said. “We're still confident we are going to come out victorious and take the series.”
State added one more run in the ninth, a homer by Brent Lewis to right-center.
Cory Dueitt (6-1) picked up the win in relief. He entered the game in the sixth and pitched 1 2/3 innings, giving up just one hit. Steven Register was on the mound for the final 1 2/3 innings and earned his 11th save of the year.
Jamie Gant (1-1) was charged with the loss. He gave up just one run on two hits in 3 1/3 innings, but the run was to Vines in the seventh. Starter Alan Johnson lasted three innings and yielded four runs on six hits against 16 batters faced.
“They got to Johnson early and then to our bullpen,” Polk said. “(Friday) we got a couple of timely hits. We didn't get them (Saturday).”