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May 20, 2013

One more try

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AUBURN | The Southeastern Conference will unveil its latest tweak to the postseason baseball tournament, a quartet of loser-leaves-town games, beginning this morning.

Auburn and Alabama, of course, have to play a role.

SEC TOURNAMENT, FIRST ROUND
Auburn (33-22, 13-17)
vs. Alabama (32-24, 14-15)

WHEN: Tuesday, approximately 1 p.m.
WHERE: Hoover Met
ON THE AIR: TV " FSN; Radio " Auburn Baseball Radio Network (also available via subscription at AuburnTigers.com), XM Channel 199, Sirius Channel 158
PITCHING MATCHUP:
LHP Conner Kendrick (5-3, 2.03) vs.
LHP Justin Kamplain (1-0, 4.53)
NOTES OF INTEREST: Auburn closed out its regular season with three consecutive series wins, which included two teams in the top 25 … The Tigers are 8-4 in May … Senior Mitchell Self started in place of Damek Tomscha last weekend and went 5-for-9 with three runs … closer Terrance Dedrick has allowed just three runs in his last 23 1/3 innings of work … Auburn is 2-2 against Alabama this season, which includes two losses during the weekend series and a win in the Capital City Classic.
The arch rivals will play Tuesday at approximately 1 p.m. CDT inside the Hoover Met. The stakes are higher for Auburn, which likely needs at least one more win to solidify its NCAA Tournament resume, and that's not even the most important part. The Crimson Tide took two of three games at Plainsman Park earlier this season.

"I can't wait," Auburn catcher Blake Austin said when learning that Alabama would be his next opponent. "They came on our field and embarrassed us. Can't wait."

Auburn was a different team back then. An 0-6 start to league play against Vanderbilt and LSU, a pair of championship-caliber teams, left the Tigers disheartened and emotionally drained.

It showed.

After losing the first game 6-2 and winning the second 6-3, the Tigers seemed prime to win the series on Sunday. Yet the home team finished with just four hits in a 2-0 loss.

Low points don't get much lower.

Yet the Tigers gradually turned things around. A series win at Texas A&M in early April was the first sign of life, though a pair of weekend wins against Ole Miss earlier this month showed that things had changed substantively. Subsequent series wins against Florida and Arkansas clinched the Tigers' spot in Hoover, once seen as a long shot, and earned them notice as one of the league's most intriguing teams.

"Since about the half-way point of the season, we've really started to play our best brand of baseball," coach John Pawlowski said. "I feel like we're playing a lot better. I think that puts us in the right frame of mind and in good position here down the stretch."

Pawlowski isn't taking chances.

He'll go with ace Conner Kendrick on Tuesday. Auburn currently is No. 32 in the Ratings Percentage Index rankings, which gives Pawlowski some credibility with the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee. However, a 13-17 record in conference games is unseemly.

Will the Tigers make the 64-team field?

A win Tuesday against Alabama -- and it's No. 28 ranking -- will do nothing but help Auburn's cause.



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