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May 17, 2013- -
AUBURN | Sometimes one mistake is too many.
That's the only way to explain how Auburn starter Michael O'Neal, his tailing fastball and sinking changeup having flummoxed his opponents for most of the night, lost a 1-0 game to Arkansas on Friday night.
The left-hander walked a batter and conceded a pair of singles during the third inning that yielded the visitors' lone run. Auburn created only a few enticing chances against Arkansas starter Ryne Stanek, a long and tall right hander whose fastball topped out at 98 mph.
None of those chances panned out. It's a simple game.
"We couldn't come up with that key hit," Auburn coach John Pawlowski said. "We did a lot of things right; we just have to find a way to push one (run) across, maybe two."
O'Neal operated at his usual level of excellence, confusing hitters with an 84-mph fastball and a 72 mph changeup. Arkansas struggled to find an appropriate level of aggression at the plate and created only a few meaningful opportunities.
One of them ended triumphantly.
With runners on the corner with one out, third baseman Dominic Ficociello ripped a changeup back up the middle. O'Neal moved away from the ball in hopes second baseman Jordan Ebert could start a double play after fielding the sharp grounder.
Ebert broke quickly and dived. Still, he couldn't touch the ball. Arkansas took the lead.
"It's fun to be in 2-1, 1-0 game knowing that every pitch matters," said O'Neal, who manhandled the Razorbacks after his third-inning hiccup. "Once you've given up (a run), you just have to pound it and save your bullpen."
Auburn (32-22, 12-17) couldn't create anything more than token momentum against Stanek, whose fastball remained in the 94-mph range even in the seventh inning. His most perilous situation came in the seventh when Hunter Kelley doubled down the right-field line with two outs.
Cullen Wacker stepped to the plate and worked himself in a full count. Stanek got the strikeout with a low and inside slider than Wacker couldn't touch. Rally over.
The loss clinched for Auburn the No. 10 seed in next week's Southeastern Conference tournament. The Tigers will face the No. 7 seed, likely Alabama or Florida, during the second game Tuesday in Hoover.
Though fans walked away disappointed, they watched history. Auburn hadn't lost a 1-0 game -- SEC or otherwise -- since the 1996 season.
The two teams are scheduled to settle the series Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. There is a 60 percent chance of thunderstorms.