AUBURN | Could that have been the breakthrough Auburn needed?
The Tigers left College Station on Sunday afternoon with an unexpected sense of accomplishment, having earned a series win against No. 18 Texas A&M. Unexpected? Auburn entered the weekend with a single Southeastern Conference win in nine games.
The defining moment came during the third inning Saturday. First baseman Garrett Cooper and left fielder Cullen Wacker hit back-to-back homers while catcher Blake Austin added a two-run blast moments later.
"It's good to win, obviously for a lot of reasons; the main reason is the confidence continues to build. There is a little change in the air, so-to-speak, going on around our ball club right now," coach John Pawlowski said Saturday. "What we did offensively was a tremendous sign. We got some balls up in the wind and we hit some balls hard too."
Cooper played a big role in Friday's win as well.
The game was tied 3-3 when he stepped to the plate during the 10th inning. He waited on an inside fastball from Aggies reliever Zach Brashear and got one, crushing it over the wall in left field. That gave the low-scoring Tigers an important shot of confidence.
Cooper also had a three-run homer against Alabama a week earlier.
"Gabe (Gross) told me before the at-bat to look inside because (Brashear's) ball tailed in," Cooper said. "I sat inside and luckily got the head on it for a line-drive home run. It's a great feeling to have back-to-back weekends with those home runs."
Junior Mike O'Neal was strong again on Saturday, allowing two earned runs in six innings of work. He's now 6-2 with a 2.37 earned run average despite striking out just 3.6 batters per nine innings.
The SEC average is 7.4.
O'Neal remains effective because he limits walks and his sinking fastball is nearly impossible to loft with authority. None of the 163 batters he's faced this season have hit a home run.
Auburn also made strides at the plate last weekend. The team batted .295 in College Station after entering the series with a .243 mark against conference teams.
A home series against slumping Georgia this weekend could help the Tigers consolidate progress made last weekend. A strong showing is paramount to the team's postseason hopes -- road series against Mississippi State and Missouri await later in April.
**Auburn's win on Friday night was only its second extra-innings victory of the season -- and its first SEC series-opening win.
**The Tigers launched three homers during the third inning on Saturday, which was the first time in a year the team hit three in a game. The last time Auburn hit three homers in one inning? A 16-14 win against Mississippi State in May 2010.
**Garrett Cooper and Cullen Wacker had back-to-back homers during the inning. That hasn't happened since April 2011 when Justin Fradejas and Dan Gamache managed that powerful task.
**Blake Austin caught another baserunner trying to steal second base last weekend, which bumps his career tally to 32. He's currently fifth in the Auburn record books and is only three behind Bobby Huddleston, who currently holds fourth place.
**Mike O'Neal won his sixth game of the season on Saturday, which made him the first Auburn pitcher to hit that mark since Derek Varnadore in 2011. If he can get two more wins, O'Neal would equal Grant Dayton's 8-3 mark from 2010. A third win? Levale Speigner went 10-0 in 2003.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
GARRETT COOPER, Senior, 1B
The burly first baseman hit .412 in the Tigers' four games last week, which included a .429 mark in the team's series win at No. 18 Texas A&M. He finished with one double and two homers in College Station, which helped Cooper rack up 13 total bases and six RBIs. He won the Friday night game with a three-run homer in the 10th inning. Cooper hit the second of back-to-back homers to fueled a five-run inning on Saturday. He now leads the team with a .346 batting average and a .567 slugging percentage.
TOUCHING THE BASES
AUBURN BY THE NUMBERS:
Hitting (SEC rank if available)
Batting Average - .269 (11)
Home Runs - 13 (T-8)
Runs - 172 (9)
Hits - 285 (10)
On Base Percentage - .362 (10)
Stolen Bases - 20 (12)
Strikeouts - 189 (9)
Pitching and Fielding (SEC Rank if available)
Team ERA - 3.43 (11)
Opponent Batting Average - .258 (11)
Runs Allowed - 149 (11)
Earned Runs Allowed - 109 (11)
Batters Struck Out - 182 (14)
Fielding Percentage - .966 (11)
Errors - 42 (13)
LAST WEEK'S RECORD: 3-1
LAST WEEK'S RESULTS:
Apr. 3 Wofford W, 7-4
Apr. 5 at Texas A&M W, 6-4 (10)
Apr. 6 at Texas A&M W, 10-5
Apr. 7 at Texas A&M L, 1-4
THE WEEK AHEAD:
Apr. 10 Alabama State 6 p.m. CDT
Apr. 12 Georgia 6 p.m.
Apr. 13 Georgia 3 p.m.
Apr. 14 Georgia 1 p.m.
Overall Record: 19-13
SEC Record: 3-9
RPI: Boyd's World (46); Warren Nolan (47)
SEC WEEKEND RESULTS:
Kentucky at LSU (LSU 3-0)
South Carolina at UT (USC 3-0)
Vanderbilt at Ole Miss (VU 3-0)
Mizzou at Georgia (MU 2-1)
Florida at MSU (MSU 2-1)
Arkansas at Alabama (Ark 2-1)
SEC Baseball Standings - 4/7:
Western Division (Overall, SEC)
LSU 30-2, 11-1
Arkansas 23-9, 8-4
Alabama 20-13, 8-4
Texas A&M 20-13, 6-6
Miss. State 36-9, 5-7
Ole Miss 23-9, 4-8
Auburn 19-13, 3-9
Eastern Division (Overall, SEC)
Vanderbilt 29-4, 11-1
South Carolina 26-7, 8-4
Kentucky 22-9, 6-6
Florida 15-18, 5-7
Missouri 11-17, 4-8
Tennessee 13-17, 3-9
Georgia 12-21, 2-10