May 18, 2013
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN — Remember when Auburn was struggling in the SEC? Not so much now. The Tigers closed out the regular season Saturday with a wild 11-6 victory over No. 11 Arkansas in a game in which they scored two runs on a squeeze bunt, put up eight runs in one inning and finished the season by winning their final three SEC series against teams that will play in the NCAA Tournament.
Auburn wants to be there, too, and hopes its late-season success against Ole Miss, Florida and Arkansas will impress the NCAA Selection Committee. The Tigers can help themselves in the SEC Tournament as well. The Tigers will play Alabama around noon Tuesday in Hoover. Auburn and Alabama each won two of the four games they played this season. The winner of the single-elimination round will play LSU on Wednesday.
Auburn coach John Pawlowski said he wasn't sure what the NCAA may be thinking.
"I really haven't thought about it, but I do feel that when you look how a team finishes in the conference: We won our last three conference series against three quality opponents," he said. "We didn't start off good, but we certainly finished the conference pretty well. I think we put ourselves in a very good position, but we have a lot more work to do."
Auburn was 1-8 in the SEC early, but the Tigers went 12-9 down the stretch.
Auburn heads to the SEC Tournament with a 33-22 overall record after finishing the conference regular-season with a 13-17 mark. Arkansas left town for a bus ride to Hoover at 35-19 overall and 18-11 in the SEC.
The Tigers' offense had come alive, for the most part, against Ole Miss and Florida. But Auburn beat Arkansas 3-0 on Thursday before losing 1-0 on Friday. Saturday's game figured to be something of a pitcher's duel as well with Randal Fant, he of a 2.00 ERA, starting for Arkansas. That didn't happen.
Saturday's game was powered by a bunt to a pitcher that was thrown everywhere but in the right direction that gave Auburn two runs and a 3-3 tie, and set the stage for six more runs in the decisive fifth inning.
Mitchell Self laid down the bunt that went to the pitcher. After that?
"It was a circus out there," said Auburn DH Patrick Savage.
Fant threw wildly to home that let Ryan Tella score, and Blake Austin, who began the play on first, came around to score when Arkansas botched a rundown between first and second with Self.
Self ended up at second.
"That's just the way we scripted it," joked Pawlowski.
"We needed something to break for us. Yesterday we got stuffed pretty good, and then we come back today and do what we did was a compliment to our guys."
Savage followed the bunt play with an RBI single, Dan Glevenyak drove in a run when he was hit by a pitch, Jordan Ebert drove in a run with a single, Austin drove in two with a single and Mitchell Self drove in one more with a hit.
Austin added an RBI single in the seventh. Savage did the same in the eighth. Before all of that, Ebert homered in the second.
"Hitting is contagious," Savage said. "One person gets a hit and it just keeps rolling. Especially against a staff like that, with as good as arms as they have, it really gives us confidence."
Auburn's four-five-six hitters were a combined 7-for-12 with five RBIs. Austin was 3-for-4 with three RBIs.
Trey Cochran-Gill improved to 1-1 after allowing four runs in 5 2/3 innings of relief. Brandon Moore, the second of seven Arkansas pitchers, was the loser, falling to 1-3.
Arkansas left town — and for an early trip to Hoover — at 35-19 overall and 18-11 in the SEC.
SEC Tournament Seeding
#4 South Carolina
#5 Mississippi State
#6 Ole Miss
#9 Texas A&M
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