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May 16, 2013- -
AUBURN | Arkansas leads the Southeastern Conference in pitching. It's the Razorbacks' hallmark.
Conner Kendrick taught them a thing or two Thursday night.
The junior starter was nothing short of spectacular, working 7 1/3 shutout innings in a crucial game for the Tigers. He allowed only four hits and struck out eight batters.
Auburn's postseason hopes took another step forward with the 3-0 win at Plainsman Park.
"We know we have a lot of work to do," coach John Pawlowski said. "We just have to find a way. We did that tonight."
Kendrick's fastball was good, fluctuating between 87 and 89 mph, but his 79-mph changeup was the key. He had Arkansas' hitters guessing at every turn and that elicited some ugly swings.
The left-hander coaxed 20 swing-and-miss strikes Thursday night. Most of them were attempts to crush his changeup, which dived toward the bottom of the strike zone after looking luscious to hitters out of Kendrick's hand.
That's the idea.
"The change -- that definitely was my go-to pitch tonight," said Kendrick, who threw 119 pitches Thursday. "It's probably the best I've felt all year."
Auburn (32-21, 12-16) was effective at the plate as well. Mitchell Self came into the game batting .154, but went 3-for-3 while subbing for injured third baseman Damek Tomscha. Self scored two of the Tigers' three runs.
He found out about the start a few hours before game time.
"I was real excited, real pumped to get on the field," Self said. "You've been waiting on it all year. Tonight, I guess I got lucky."
Garrett Cooper's single through the left side scored Self and Hunter Kelley during the third inning, which gave Kendrick and important emotional lift. Arkansas is not known for scoring.
Self added to the Tigers' lead in the seventh inning. He advanced from first to third on a hit from Kelley, but was able to score when a throw devised to catch Kelley at second base instead rolled into right field.
Kendrick labored in the eighth inning and was replaced by closer Terrance Dedrick, who allowed only two baserunners during the final 1 2/3 innings.
"We have to win this series no matter what," Cooper said afterward. "(Thursday's win) was huge."
Arkansas (34-18, 17-10) remains in third place in the SEC standings, which adds allure to the Tigers' win. Additional wins against the Razorbacks will only strengthen Auburn's postseason resume. That resume is in need of additional enhancement before the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee takes it seriously.
The teams resume play Friday at 6 p.m.