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May 3, 2013

Pushed to the brink


AUBURN | The Tigers have cooled after winning consecutive series during early April and the problem once again has shifted.

No. 18 Ole Miss (32-14, 11-10)
at Auburn (25-18, 7-14)

WHEN: Friday (6 p.m.), Saturday (2:15 p.m.), Sunday (1 p.m.)
WHERE: Plainsman Park
ON THE AIR: TV - SportSouth on Saturday; Radio - Auburn Baseball Radio Network; Internet -- AUHD via AuburnTigers.com
LHP Conner Kendrick (3-2, 1.94) vs.
RHP Bobby Wahl (8-0, 1.22)
LHP Mike O'Neal (8-3, 2.34) vs.
RHP Mike Mayers (3-4, 2.84)
TBA vs.
RHP Sam Smith (2-0, 3.53)
NOTES OF INTEREST: These two teams are split at 73 wins apiece in this series since 1949 with Auburn leading 40-29 at home The Tigers have won three consecutive series against the Rebels Auburn is 3-9 this seasons against teams ranked in the Top 25 The Tigers were 9-6 in April as outfielder Cullen Wacker hit .427 (24-for-57) and drove in 11 runs.
Pitching was an issue early in the season, though starters Conner Kendrick and Michael O'Neal have taken well to the spots atop the rotation. Relievers Justin Camp and Terrance Dedrick generally have the bullpen operating effectively throughout the final two innings.

Yet it's hitting, once this team's strength, that suddenly has the Tigers struggling to create some late-season momentum. Coach John Pawlowski's team is scoring an average of less than three runs during its past 12 games -- less than two during the past six games -- which has placed unreasonable expectations upon the pitching staff.

"That's tough no matter what league you're in or where you play," Pawlowski said. "That makes it difficult. We'll probably re-shuffle the lineup a little bit more. We'll move some guys into some different spots, get them re-ignited, get a little more rhythm to our lineup somehow."

The most pressing issue for Pawlowski is outfielder Ryan Tella, who entered the season as Auburn's most complete hitter. After struggling down in the order, the senior was bumped into the lead-off spot.

That shift elicited a brief surge, but that surge has ended.

Tella went 0-for-11 with five strikeouts against Missouri last weekend. He scored just one run.

Another issue is shortstop. Dan Glevenyak's error-prone ways forced Pawlowski to install Mitchell Self in hopes of better defense. Instead, Self's defensive statistics have been worse than Glevenyak's and Self ended the Missouri series with a .154 batting average this season.

Something has to change.

The upside? Pawlowski said players understand their predicament and worked hard last week to improve.

"We have a choice to make here down the stretch. The choice is: We still can accomplish a lot of our goals," Pawlowski said. "We'll have to have some special weekends happen to us, some real positive things happen to us. The guys have been good. They understand where we're at. They understand what we have to do."

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