May 19, 2013
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN — Mitchell Self came off the bench, started at third base and found himself in the middle of two victories over No. 11 Arkansas over a long baseball weekend.
Mitchell Self is a microcosm of Auburn's turnaround down the stretch.
Self, who had 26 at-bats all season before replacing an injured Damek Tomscha at third Thursday, went 5-for-9 in the series and laid down a squeeze bunt Saturday that ignited an eight-run fifth inning that led to the Tigers' 11-6 victory. Auburn closed out the regular season with that win — and winning its final three SEC series in the process — and will play Alabama in a first-round SEC Tournament game in Hoover around noon Tuesday.
Auburn finished the regular season 33-22 overall and 13-17 in the SEC, that coming after a disastrous 1-8 league start. Auburn's 12 league wins after that low point trailed only No. 1 Vanderbilt, No. 2 LSU and No. 24 Mississippi State. Auburn has a 33 RPI.
The question now is how much more does Auburn need to do, if any, to make an NCAA regional.
"We won our last three conference series against quality opponents," said coach John Pawlowski. "We didn't start off good, but we certainly finished the conference pretty well."
There were lots of contributors along the way. Self said he was happy to help the Tigers close out the SEC season with a series win.
"This team is unbelievable. We fought through a lot," he said. "We started 0-6, in two really tough series; then 1-8. Ever since then we kind of turned it up. You never know who's going to step up on this team. You can't really doubt anybody on this team."
Self said Auburn's late season surge — the Tigers have won eight of their last 11 games overall -- should impress the NCAA.
"I do feel like we are a regional team. If we can keep on the same path and keep battling…I think we'll be all right," he said.
Auburn is the 10th seed in the SEC Tournament. Alabama is the seventh seed. The two teams split the four games they played this season.
"It's going to be a lot of fun. Hopefully, we'll keep this momentum we've got going now," Self said.
Auburn beat Alabama 6-3 in the Capital City Classic early in the season. Alabama beat Auburn two of three games in Plainsman Park, winning 6-2 and 2-0 and losing 6-3.
Auburn catcher Blake Austin said he's ready for the rematch.
"Can't wait. They came on our field and embarrassed us. Can't wait," he said.
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