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March 31, 2013

7 at 7: Frazier’s love of fútbol, Diamond has Basketball Jones, Robenson Therezie video, Bret Bielema talks trash toward Tuscaloosa

1) Junior quarterback Kiehl Frazier took a Twitter hiatus once the 2012 football season began, and returned in mid-January with a new account. The majority of his timeline focuses on one particular sport.

Not football. Fútbol.

Clemson_Auburn13_9-1-12“I played soccer when I was little, and I’ve always followed soccer since I was little,” said Frazier, who shares his love of soccer with roommate and tight end CJ Uzomah. “Just the athleticism … it’s a beautiful game to watch.”

Frazier’s favorite Premier League squad is Manchester United, and he’s also a Real Madrid fan. Other walk-ons who enjoy the sport are quarterback Tate O’Connor and tight end Patrick Young.

“Me and CJ want to go to the World Cup next year, but we’ll see,” Frazier said. “We haven’t looked yet, but whenever (tickets) go on sale, we’ll definitely try to get in line.”

The 2014 FIFA World Cup runs from June 12 to July 13 next summer, hosted by Brazil.

Jordan Diamond2 Only four football players from Chicago (three metro, one suburbs) have ever lettered at Auburn.

Offensive lineman Jordan Diamond should be the fifth this coming year, coming off a shoulder injury which forced him to redshirt his first year on The Plains.

“It was tough in the beginning, getting accustomed to the pace of (living) down here in Auburn,” said Diamond, who went to Chicago Simeon – far more famous for its basketball than its football.

“But I loved it on my visit – every time I was hanging out with the guys, they made me feel at home. So I’m used to it now.”

The 6-foot-6, 314-pound Diamond, a five-star recruit, is naturally crazy about basketball – fellow Simeon products are NBA MVP Derrick Rose and blue-chip Duke recruit Jabari Parker. Diamond commonly shows up at Auburn Arena for men’s and women’s games.

“Yeah, yeah. I love Auburn,” Diamond said. “That’s why I came down here – I love the community, I love everything about it. Just getting an opportunity to play ball here is a blessing, so I’m taking every advantage I can to get around and enjoy my college experience.”

3) Video of cornerback Robenson Therezie from last week:

4) Bret Bielema’s first head coaching season was my first college football coverage season. I feel like I know that guy’s career than most outside Madison, Wisc.

Which is why Bielema’s #shotsfired at Nick Saban and Alabama isn’t very surprising to me. Really, it’s worth an ‘eh’.

As Jerry wrote, let’s consider the setting. Arkansas fans at a Razorback Club fish fry represents a completely different audience than a roomful of reporters, or even any gathering of general-admission fans. My experience at any back-slapping scholarship fundraiser is coaches let their hair down a bit, and maybe end up saying some stupid stuff that makes their biggest supporters (read: boosters) feel great about continuing to line their guy’s pockets.

With that in mind, Bielema has never shied away from calling out other coaches. It’s just the way he is. Hayden Fry and Barry Alvarez spoke their mind when they felt necessary, and Bielema’s even less buttoned-up than those legends. As Bielema’s real Twitter account shows, he could maybe use a little better judgment in dealing with criticism, but I know for a fact he reads mostly everything that’s written about him and his team. (I guarantee you Gene Chizik and Gus Malzahn don’t have time for that.)

As for the comments themselves? Look, it’s Alabama, and then everybody else. Obviously – again, echoing Hinnen here – the SEC has more than one or two ‘other’ schools that gives this conference reason to boast loudly every fall. This is just a case of manufactured bravado in front of, again, loyal donors who want to hear it, and as long as Bielema’s comfortable with being who he is – much like Steve Spurrier is set in his ways – than he’s not about to change. And that’s fine.

By the way, Arkansas visits Alabama on Oct. 19, and Auburn goes to Arkansas Nov. 2.


5) Great quote from sophomore offensive tackle Patrick Miller, when asked who were the best defensive linemen he saw last year. He answered LSU’s Sam Montgomery battling Auburn left tackle Greg Robinson.

“I didn’t go against him, but Sam Montgomery, I remember watching him go against Greg … and Greg’s, like, kind of like a beast. So is Sam. I was in awe watching that on film.”

6) Junior defensive tackle Gabe Wright understands why the Auburn defense is asked to move and live as fast as the offense.

“It’s going to help us be able to press (opposing) offenses,” Wright said. “The SEC really has become high-tempo teams – Alabama implemented theirs late in the season, Georgia and Texas A&M are really starting to use it more.

“I can’t point out any negatives in practice against the offense.”

7) Of course, coaches will be diplomatic when asked about individual players within a unit. Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee likes what he’s seen out of multiple receivers, having nice things to say about Sammie Coates, Ricardo Louis, Jaylon Denson, Melvin Ray (still a walk-on) and Quan Bray.

“Sammie is a guy who made some plays down the field last year,” Lashlee said Friday. “I’ve been really impressed with how Ricardo Louis can stretch the field right now. He looks really fast out there. Jaylon and Melvin are big-bodied guys you feel like can really help you with the things we do. I think Quan has a chance to be really electric in the slot.”


‘Student of the Game': Refocused Kris Frost prepared for larger linebacker responsibilities

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com


AUBURN, Ala. – Listed as the projected third starting linebacker out of spring football in 2012: Kris Frost, coming off a redshirt year and looking to line up next to Daren Bates and Jake Holland.

However, then-defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder had cautionary words for Frost, labeling him a “developmental player” teeming with athleticism where he lacked in awareness.

“He still doesn’t see things. It’s still a fast game to him, I guess is the best way to put it,” VanGorder said last spring. “He’s got to be able to calm his game down. He will – it’s just a matter of when that will happen.”

It didn’t happen the ensuing fall, at least not in VanGorder’s eyes. Frost settled for a backup role behind Bates while the Tigers employed mostly a nickel defense with two linebackers on the field. (Jonathan Evans was technically the ‘sam’ linebacker starter.)

Not that Frost was a headcase, but he didn’t appear soon to preside over instructional tapes explaining how to play defense. Which is why Frost turned heads last Wednesday following the first spring practice under new coordinator Ellis Johnson, sounding like a brand-new man.

“There’s a lot of stuff I had to learn last year when it came to the concept of football, that I just didn’t know,” Frost said. “Being a student of the game was really my most important thing last year, and I feel like I did that. I got a major leg up on this season.

“Little different defense, but the concepts are still the same. Certain things on the field still have to be taken care of.”

Like tackling – an oft-headache for VanGorder and part of the reason that entire staff was dismissed. Johnson’s 4-2-5 set means it’s almost guaranteed there will only be two pure linebackers on the field at all times.

While Johnson insisted depth chart projections are ‘in pencil’ this early in spring, he indicated the senior Holland is double-training at mike and will, while Frost is learning how to play the mike position. Sophomore Cassanova McKinzy, who siphoned playing time in 2012 from Holland, is playing will.

“They’re younger: I don’t want to get them confused,” Johnson said. “Jake’s a little older – I’ve got him right now trying to pick up both.”

Said Frost: “I feel comfortable at mike. I’m liking it. Anytime I can be vocal, I like it. It’s fun making the calls and everything.”

That means Frost, a 6-foot-2, 235-pound sophomore from Matthews, N.C., is in the driver’s seat to take command as the heart of this defense.

“I feel like the communication is greater in this type of offense, communicating with the defensive line, the fellow linebacker right beside you, as well as the safety when he’s coming down and making sure your voice gets heard,” Frost said. “You still have your responsibility. Football’s football and linebacker’s linebacker. We’re all learning a lot.”

Frost had five tackles in 10 games his freshman year, saving his top effort for the finale – three tackles and forcing a second-half fumble (recovered by Auburn safety Ryan Smith) in the 49-0 shellacking at the hands of Alabama.

“Being a student of the game is really being willing to learn – being open to different things, being willing to sit down and be coachable, listen and work to get yourself better,” Frost said. “You’ve got to open yourself up and make it important for you to learn.

“The more you watch film and make an effort to learn, the more you’ll come out prepared. It becomes second nature to you.”

Does Frost expect to start?

“Of course. If you’re not, you’re in the wrong sport,” Frost said. “I feel really confident going into this season.”

March 30, 2013

All good things come to an end: Auburn doused by Drexel 56-43 in WNIT quarterfinals

30Aburn31BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com


AUBURN, Ala. – As early as the layup line following halftime, and ascending during her team’s customary win-or-lose postgame salute with the pep band and student section, Blanche Alverson couldn’t control her emotions.

The tears started flowing and never stopped as the 126th game of Alverson’s career didn’t end the way she or the Auburn women’s basketball team had hoped – their dreams of a WNIT championship slayed by the Drexel Dragons 56-43 Saturday night before 1,421 fans at Auburn Arena.

“It was just tough. It really is,” Alverson said. “You never want to go out with a loss, but we just didn’t play well.”

A splendid run it was for the Tigers (19-15), whose promising start to the season was marred by an 8-game losing streak in conference play, yet salvaged by three heartwarming home victories in the postseason to show their fans a glimpse of their potential on the horizon.

“There’s really no limits for this team,” Alverson said. “They have another year of experience in this system. There’s nothing but positive things to say about the future of this program.”

Sadly for Alverson and Najat Ouardad, Auburn’s two senior starters, they won’t be a part of that future chase for an NCAA tournament bid. They’ll settle for a WNIT quarterfinal finish and, in Alverson’s case, four years of memories.

“It definitely gives the ones returning confidence,” first-year coach Terri Williams-Flournoy said. “Our seniors should be very proud of themselves. They wanted to be better than they were last year.”

After Alverson’s 3-pointer just 17 seconds after tip, and another Alverson 3-ball to cut Drexel’s early lead to 13-11 with 11 minutes, 13 seconds left in the first half, the Dragons caught fire and the Tigers went ice-cold. Drexel’s 17-1 run closed the period, sustained by 15 missed field-goal attempts by the home team.

A quick 6-0 run in the first 2:12 of the second half gave Auburn hope, but Drexel responded with its own run to keep control.

Junior guard Tyrese Tanner (16 points, 6 rebounds) and Alverson’s 15 points weren’t supplemented with much offense elsewhere. Leading scorer Hasina Muhammad was 2-for-13 from the floor, and the Tigers shot 27 percent overall, plus 6-for-17 at the free-throw line.

Drexel senior Hollie Mershon led the way with 19 points and 13 rebounds, helping her Dragons (26-10) advance to the WNIT semifinals against Florida.

Junior center Peyton Davis played just 12 minutes, giving way to reserve forward Cabriana Capers. The Auburn bench hit just one of 14 field-goal tries.

Alverson finishes with the following Auburn women’s basketball career statistics and ranks: 126 games played (ninth), 213 3-pointers and 618 3-point tries (both are second), 34.5 3-point shooting percentage (eighth), 1,244 points (18th) and 602 rebounds (19th). She’s one of 10 Auburn players to complete her career in the top 30 for scoring, rebounds and assists.

She’ll be competing in the women’s 3-point shooting challenge in Atlanta this Thursday at 7 p.m. ET at the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four.

Seated next to Tanner (who averaged a school-record 23.5 points in four WNIT games this season) at the postgame podium, Alverson had one last challenge to her younger, returning teammates.

“I’ve got high expectations for you,” Alverson said with a smile. “Don’t let me down.”

Matthew Atewe maxes out Auburn’s list of returning scholarship players, incoming commitments

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

AUBURN, Ala. – Barring any changes of heart or departures from the program, Auburn head coach Tony Barbee has his 2013-14 men’s basketball roster set in place.

3-star power forward Matthew Atewe of Notre Dame (Mass.) verbally committed to Auburn over Nebraska, Charlotte and Nevada on Saturday, first reported by AuburnSports.com.

Eight scholarship players are scheduled to return from last year’s 9-23 outfit – including four in their final year of eligibility – and the younger players have sworn they will return to the Tigers rather than transfer, as some players have done in the recent past.

Three have already inked their national letter of intent in early signing period, and two others are set to officially commit in April.

Here’s the breakdown of Auburn’s expected 13 scholarship players in 2013-14, with their year of eligibility or recruiting status:

Point guard: Brian Greene Jr. (soph.), Tajh Shamsid-Deen (signed in November)

Shooting guard: Chris Denson (sr.), KT Harrell (jr.), Jordan Price (soph.)

Small forward: Allen Payne (sr.), Shaquille Johnson (soph.), Dion Wade (verbal commit)

Power forward: Jordon Granger (soph.), Matthew Atewe (verbal commit)

Center: Asauhn Dixon-Tatum (sr.), Benas Griciunas (signed in November), Ronald Delph (signed in November)

Back to his roots: Cool, confident Kiehl Frazier relieved to be back in his comfort zone


BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com


AUBURN, Ala. – Kiehl Frazier had his pick of several mentors and other trusted members of his support system during the most melancholy six months of his life.

Down the stretch of a dismal 3-9 season in which he lost his starting job, it was then-offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler.

“Even whenever they put Clint (Moseley) in, when they put Jon (Wallace) in,” the junior quarterback said, “he said, keep your confidence. You can be a good player.”

Once the offseason began, Frazier’s father, Robin Beach, and high school coach, Josh Floyd, did their best to champion his spirit.

“He says, you’re a winner,” Frazier said of his dad’s repeated message. “You’ve been a winner your whole life. So you can still be a winner. Go be a winner.”

Recently, a fellow classmate has filled that role as well. Every time he enters Jordan-Hare Stadium – which he did for the first time in spring practice pads Saturday – Frazier walks by a statue of that famous student.

“Cam (Newton) would be around all the time, and now he’s here at school,” Frazier said. “He’s like, forget about last year. This is the offense I did well in, you can do well in it too.”

It was small-school Arkansas competition, of course, but Frazier wasn’t named USA Today’s National Player of the Year for his polite demeanor. It’s hard to say whether Frazier forgot who he once was – a blue-chip product deemed the future of the program, the heir to King Cam’s throne – but getting benched after just nine woeful halves of football had to chip away at his confidence.


“No. It hasn’t,” Frazier insisted. “I know I can be a good quarterback in this league. It’s just something that I’ve got to step up and do it.”

Frazier said he never considered transferring. But when head coach Gus Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee were summoned back to the Plains less than ten days after the firing of their predecessors Gene Chizik and Loeffler – who favored a slower, traditional pro-style attack – Frazier couldn’t help but beam.

“This is an offense that I’m a lot more comfortable with,” Frazier said. “Really, when I got recruited, this is what I was expecting to run what I got to Auburn. So it’s good to get back to it.

“It’s going to be fun.”

Sophomore Jonathan Wallace, the only other scholarship quarterback in spring practices, played in a similar spread attack at Central High School in Phenix City. He and Frazier are re-learning their comfort level, after a year in a completely different system.

“That’s the thing about it, we have to be fast,” Wallace said. “That’s why (Malzahn’s) putting the emphasis on it. That’s going to be our edge, playing fast and doing things right. We’re not fast enough right now. We’re going to get there.”

During his first meeting with reporters since Oct. 6, the day he lost his starting job at halftime of a Week 6 home loss to Arkansas, Frazier’s three buzz words Frazier were “mental toughness” and “confidence.”

“It’s definitely been tested. I’ve never won only three games in a season in anything,” Frazier said. “You never want to sit on the bench, especially if your team’s losing. I had to grow mentally, and my confidence just had to stay.”

These days, while Newton finishes off his degree during his offseason from the Carolina Panthers, the former Heisman Trophy winner makes a point to chat with a younger version of himself.

While Newton hasn’t been available to reporters since his return to class, Frazier estimated they see each other “2-3 times a week”.

“Every time,” Frazier said, “he’ll say, hey, you know what, keep your head up and keep going.”


Auburn AD Jay Jacobs “extremely saddened” by former Alabama AD Mal Moore’s death

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs’ statement on former Alabama AD Mal Moore passing away at the age of 73 this morning in Durham, N.C.:

“I’m extremely saddened by the passing of my friend and colleague, Mal Moore. He served his alma mater with grace and dignity, and spent a majority of his life giving to the university that he loved. Mal was an outstanding leader, fierce competitor and most important, an outstanding human being. He will be missed, but his legacy at Alabama will live on forever. On behalf of the Auburn Family, our thoughts and prayers are with his daughter, Heather, the extended Moore family, as well as everyone associated with the University of Alabama.”

A moment of silence was observed before Alabama and Auburn played the rubber match of a three-game baseball series Saturday afternoon at Plainsman Park.

Notes & quotes: Malzahn unhappy with padded practice, Jordan Diamond ‘blessed’ by return, Patrick Miller has All-American aspirations


BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com


AUBURN, Ala. – Individually, nobody stood out, and together, the Auburn football team isn’t fully adjusted to its head coach’s expectations.

Gus Malzahn was less than enthralled with the Tigers’ first padded practice, their first session inside Jordan-Hare Stadium, on a warm Saturday morning.

“Big picture: after seeing some things, we’ve got a long way to go,” Malzahn said. “And that’s what I told the players. The great thing is, I really feel like most of them have the right attitude and want to get better. It’s just a matter of getting in the proper shape and learning the right techniques and everything that goes with that.”

Malzahn admitted it took “probably half of spring” for his last program, Arkansas State, to get comfortable with the breakneck speed of a Malzahn practice.

However, Malzahn pointedly said “not yet, no” when asked whether Auburn was starting to get it together, as if to infer the Tigers are behind where Malzahn expected they’d be.

Also asked if anybody stood out personally, Malzahn’s answer was “No. Zero. No.” This was Auburn’s third practice in four days, a structure which will continue each of the next three weekends.

“A lot of them are in shock, with how fast the pace, everything that goes with that,” Malzahn said. “Fatigue is a factor. We’ve got to get them in our type of playing shape.

“I will say this (about) our defense: I’m very proud of those guys, the way they handled the pace.”

Indeed, junior defensive tackle Gabe Wright is reasonably optimistic, if not doing cartwheels.

“We’re adjusting. It’s still a long time to go, we still have plenty of work to put in,” Wright said. “We’ve got 12 more days of spring. It felt good to get in pads and work out all the kinks you couldn’t out of pads. I can truly say we got better.”

There’s still 80 percent of spring football remaining, not to mention all of summer conditioning and fall camp. But it’s about how quickly the Tigers get situated to what has become the norm in any football-related activity.

“Getting lined up, being able to process, think quick, being disciplined, mental toughness,” Malzahn said. “Then you play pace teams and the game seems slow. Just about everybody in our league is doing some sort of pace, so it’ll be an advantage for them once we get into our season.”

Diamond in the rough? Redshirt freshman Jordan Diamond – one of the rare five-star recruits out of high school who had to wait his turn – is running with the penciled-in first-team offense.

“It’s just a blessing, knowing you worked hard during the offseason and you get the opportunity to play,” Diamond said. “Everybody on this O-Line is good. Nobody’s spot is guaranteed. So you’ve got to bust your butt every day to learn the system.”

Diamond was asked about the shoulder injury that held him out of last year, and after saying he hurt it in fall camp (in August), Diamond cut himself short, saying Malzahn doesn’t want players discussing injuries.

At any rate, with no scholarship seniors on the offensive line, this is a somewhat-experience group which will see much competition for starting spots.

“We all compete. We all praise each other. As O-Linemen, you don’t want to ever go back and see your boys not shaking your hand – that’s a bad feeling,” Diamond said. “We all try to keep comfortable with each other and build relationships with everybody – not even just us, everybody on the team.

“We’re trying to lead this team to the promised land, where we’re supposed to be.”

Lofty goals: Right tackle Patrick Miller, who went through some growing pains the final nine games of 2012 as a true freshman starter, was sheepish when answering a question about his season goals.

“To be an All-American,” Miller said. “And I want to get as many knockdowns as I can in practice and during games. I just want people to know I’m a good offensive lineman.”

Speaking of fast: Onterio McCalebb’s work as an underclassman for Malzahn the offensive coordinator has earned the tailback/returner some looks at the next level.

The Opelika-Auburn News and Montgomery Advertiser caught up with McCalebb outside Saturday’s practice. McCalebb said he has visited with the Detroit Lions, will do so with the Atlanta Falcons and has heard from the Washington Redskins.

The NFL Draft is four weekends away, starting April 25.

Quick observations from Auburn practice #3: Practice video, Malzahn comments blog

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

AUBURN, Ala. – The first Auburn practice of the spring where sunscreen was necessary, Jordan-Hare Stadium reopened for business in the Tigers’ third session in four days.

An official referee crew was on hand, indicating there’s going to be a scrimmage later on. Closed to the media and general public, though.

At the tail end of the media’s viewing window, we saw the first 11-on-11 hurry-up drill. While it’s been well-documented these mean very little, the first units remained the same as previously reported … while keeping in mind Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace are swapping chances with the first unit.

This 11-on-11 drill including some physical contact, mainly in the tackle box. Nothing outside, nobody lighting up any receivers or anything.

Every coach was somewhere inside the sidelines coaching up the drill, obviously keeping a supersonic tempo. Primarily, it was Gus Malzahn right on top of the quarterback and overall offense, making calls and keeping the pace.

If you live in the Jordan-Hare Stadium neighborhood, you’re probably hearing a booming voice all morning. That would be Malzahn himself, wearing a microphone and announcing period numbers and the next drill to echo throughout 80,000 empty seats.

Immediately following stretching was a fast-paced field-goal drill, setting up kicker Cody Parkey from straightaway and both hashes. The multiple attempts would trend back 5 yards at a time, going back as far as a 47-yard attempt (which Parkey missed wide left). Ryan White’s still the main holder, but punter Steven Clark did some work as well.

Stretching is coordinated with about 30 players at a time moving forward. When the final 30-man line of one exercise didn’t see everybody start at the same time, S&C coach Ryan Russell and safeties coach Charlie Harbison made them do it again

– “Great body language in everything you do!” – CBs coach Melvin Smith, during stretching

Speaking of body language, Russell walks and stalks like Peyton Manning doing his crazy audibles during a frantic 2-minute offense. This definitely sets the tone in terms of being fast. There’s a reason Malzahn canned Kevin Yoxall for Russell.

Lots of schmoozing by director of high school recruiting Al Pogue with high school coaches on the side. This is his job.

The QBs worked on pre-snap calls, 3-step drops and keeping their eyes up. Footwork’s going to be an ever-persistent process.

“You can’t help but think, what’s next?” Auburn women dreaming of another WNIT title

Tyrese Tanner

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com


AUBURN, Ala. – Three down, three to go.

Of course, the Auburn women’s basketball team has more work to do, and a tricky WNIT quarterfinal matchup beckons with Drexel at Auburn Arena, Saturday at 7 p.m. ET.

But since none of their three WNIT home victories has been particularly difficult, it’s natural for the Tigers (19-14) to channel their inner 8-year-old – gazing at the clouds, dreaming of what’s yet to come.

“I just want us to keep winning and for us to get a championship,” said an exuberant Tyrese Tanner Wednesday after beating Tulane in the Round of 16. “I feel that we’re pretty focused for these next games.”

Games, not game, she said. Plural. The confidence isn’t necessarily displaced; no other WNIT quarterfinalist has won all its games comfortably by double digits, and this being the 10-year anniversary of Auburn’s 2003 WNIT championship, there’s a special feeling about this run.

“Everyone has the drive and the hunger to get this championship,” Tanner concluded.

Obviously, first-year head coach Terri Williams-Flournoy was asked how she felt about her players looking ahead. Obviously, she winced, believing only the next opponent should be on their minds.

“But it’s an exciting time for them,” Williams-Flournoy said. “Of course, they always see the bigger picture. They have to figure out how to get there, but for this team (because) they’re playing so well right now, they’re hungry. They feel it.

“You can’t help but think, ‘what’s next?’”

What’s next is Drexel (25-10), which has a prolific scorer in Hollie Mershon (19.4 points, 6.0 rebounds) and plenty of complementary parts.

“Drexel is a tough matchup in trying to defend their motion offense,” Williams-Flournoy said. “They spread you out extremely far. It’s the quarterfinals and a great place to be, so our kids just have to get ready and play.”

Tanner’s been on fire the entire postseason, averaging 26 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.7 steals and 2.7 blocks in three outstanding games.

The junior guard’s credence has rubbed off on equally hungry teammates.

“We want our last game to be a win. Not many people can say that,” senior leader Blanche Alverson said. “That’s my goal. I want to play my last college game and I want it to be a win.”

The winner will face either Florida or James Madison, another SEC vs. Colonial Athletic Association matchup, in the semifinals.

General admission tickets are still available for $7, while reserved seating costs $10. The game can be viewed on AuburnTigers.com.

March 29, 2013

O’Neal, Cooper lift make-or-break victory for Auburn baseball, 6-3 over rival Alabama


BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com


AUBURN, Ala. – This one was huge.

Like, season-at-a-crossroads huge.

Auburn waited until Good Friday, but a great Friday it was for the Tigers – finally notching their first SEC baseball victory this season behind Michael O’Neal’s reliability and Garrett Cooper’s power stroke to beat rival Alabama 6-3 in front of 3,635 fans at Plainsman Park.

“We’ve lost seven straight SEC (games) – that’s, like, wow, we’ve not been doing very good lately,” O’Neal said. “It was nice to finally have ‘that’ night and get that monkey off our back.”

O’Neal (5-2) got touched up at times, but some better defense by Auburn (16-11, 1-7 SEC) might have had the Pacelli native eyeing his second shutout of the year. The lefty allowed eight hits without a walk and struck out three in 7 2/3 innings.

He looked to finish the eighth, too, when a mound trip by head coach John Pawlowski resulted in the head coach’s decision to leave in O’Neal. Third baseman Damek Tomscha booted what would have been a ground-ball out to end the eighth, and two hits later, Pawlowski had to summon closer Terrance Dedrick with a 6-3 lead.

All three runs allowed by O’Neal were unearned, lowering his season ERA to 2.28.

“When you have a guy on the mound like Mike O’Neal, he’s just a strike thrower. He misses barrels and does a great job,” Pawlowski said. “He’s got an ability to maneuver the ball around pretty good.”

Dedrick needed three pitches to coax a grounder to short, stranding two Tide. Then in the ninth, after Alabama (17-11, 6-2) shortstop Mikey White led off the ninth with a single, the threat was snuffed by a 3-6-1 double play – made possible by Dedrick’s spectacular stretch at first.

A game-ending, series-splitting strikeout of pinch-hitter Andrew Miller was sweet for Dedrick, the Tigers’ new closer picking up his second save against a familiar face.

“Growing up in Tuscaloosa and committing to Auburn, I’ve been waiting to play against them for a long time,” Dedrick said. “I’ve always gone for both teams, because I lived in Tuscaloosa, I went for Alabama. But, you know, when you come here, you’re ‘all in.’ I’m definitely all Auburn now.”

Two giant swings provided all the offense O’Neal and Dedrick needed. No. 9 hitter Hunter Kelley had an adventurous night, committing two right-field errors but sending a two-run shot to left to push Auburn ahead 2-1 in the third – remarkably, its first lead in an SEC game this year.

“It felt a lot better, especially after that first inning where they got a run and I’m thinking, here we go again,” O’Neal said.

AthleticsCooper put it out of reach in the fifth, tucking a 3-run homer over the center-field wall for his second homer of the year.

“Last night, I came up with the bases loaded and (hit into) a double play,” Cooper said. “Tonight was a different story. Turned this whole game around; hopefully turned this series around.”

O’Neal called beating Alabama “heavenly” and “perfect.”

“It’s amazing – especially after all we’ve gone through so far this season,” O’Neal said.

The Tigers had lost five straight games.

“I think it was big to see some smiles in our locker room and clubhouse,” Pawlowski said. “Our guys have been working hard, and (they) finally get to see the rewards.”

Tide starter Jon Keller labored through five innings, allowing both home runs and a total of six runs, all earned. Alabama was also sloppy defensively, its two errors bringing the game tally to five.

The series score will be settled Saturday at 4 p.m. ET, with Alabama righty Spencer Turnbull (2-1, 3.31 ERA) going against lefty Will Kendall (0-1, 9.64), whose recovery from an arm injury last year suffered against Alabama continues with his fourth start of 2013.

The home team has won every league series in the Iron Bowl of baseball going back to 2006.