May 15, 2013
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN — First baseman Garrett Cooper leads Auburn with a .360 batting average, is tied with for the team lead with seven homers and is second in RBIs with 35.
He's helped Auburn's offense catch fire down the stretch, enough for the Tigers to win six of their last eight games and to qualify for next week's SEC Tournament. But there's likely more work to do if Auburn is to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
"I couldn't have asked for a better season. But it's nothing much if we don't make the post-season my senior year," Cooper says. "It's a big weekend, a big week ahead. It's all you can ask is a chance to get back to the post-season."
Auburn wraps up the regular season with a three-game series against 11th-ranked Arkansas beginning at 6 p.m. Thursday in Plainsman Park.
Auburn is 31-21 overall, 11-16 in the SEC and sports a 35 RPI. The Tigers currently sit as the 10th seed for the SEC Tournament, but can finish as high as sixth or as low as 12th.
"I'm certainly proud of our club for making the SEC Tournament for a fourth year in a row, but more goals, more aspirations, lie ahead for this club," said coach John Pawlowski on Tuesday. "We know we'll have to play well this weekend to move forward.
"The players are smart enough and they understand what's at stake. We're playing for more than just seeding in the SEC Tournament. We're playing to be one of the 64 teams to fight to go to Omaha. I think they're very motivated. It's all right there in front of them."
Auburn can make a case for NCAA play with its good RPI. But that's no guarantee.
"You can do all the math and try to figure out all the numbers, but it comes down to winning," Pawlowski said. "We need to win some games. How many that magical number is, I don't know. Our RPI is the eighth best in the SEC. We've put ourselves in a position to be at least one of those 64, but it comes down to winning games. We've got to win some games this weekend."
And in the SEC Tournament in Hoover.
"We've got to win some games in the tournament," Pawlowski said.
First up is Arkansas and a pitching staff with three starters with ERAs of 2.21 or lower. Thursday's opener features Auburn's Conner Kendrick (4-3, 2.25 ERA) against Barrett Astin (4-3, 2.21 ERA) Friday's 6 p.m. game has Auburn's Michael O'Neal (8-3, 2.85 ERA) against Ryne Stanek (7-2, 1.70 ERA). Auburn hasn't announced its starter for Saturday's 1 p.m. finale. Arkansas will start Randall Fant (5-1, 2.00 ERA).
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