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March 15, 2013

Brenner: Two outs, bottom of the ninth … can Auburn baseball somehow save the season?

9Auburn3 (1)AUBURN, Ala. – Altogether now: take me out to the ballgame, take me out with the crowd …

Take me anywhere but Jordan-Hare Stadium or Auburn Arena, I don’t care if I never get back.

(No, that’s not the real line, and no, my version doesn’t rhyme.)

Well, maybe that’s a little harsh. Obviously, Auburn fans can’t wait to get back to football season and see what ol’ Gus can do. And Auburn basketball … well, uh, let’s not go there. Wound’s still fresh.

But hey, how about giving John Pawlowski and the boys of summer a shot? SEC baseball season is here, starting tonight at Plainsman Park vs. No. 2-ranked Vanderbilt, and there’s no way the Tigers finish in the vicinity of 3-24 (the combined 2012-13 league record of Auburn football and men’s hoops), right?

Of course, SEC baseball’s every bit as competitive (maybe more) than SEC football. Sure, the coaches picked Auburn to finish last in the SEC West – if that happens, get back to me in May and I’ll check how many times an SEC program has occupied the cellar in all three major men’s sports in one academic year.

Look on the bright side: 73, 75, 76. The high temps for the next three days. Baseball’s a lovely outdoor sport, kids.

OK, there’s more to it than that. Auburn’s 13-3, the most sterling start in Pawlowski’s five-year tenure.

Granted, the football team won three of four non-conference games, and the basketball team had some success outside the league (beating Florida State and scaring Illinois). But those two teams showed cracks even against inferior competition.

For the most part, the baseball team’s been sound, solid, sturdy, all those things you want to see in a club. The theme song in non-conference play for any major-college team should be Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s “Takin’ Care of Business”, and that’s just what the Tigers have done.

So far.

Of the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association’s top 11 ranked teams, seven are from the SEC. (Take that, football and your six of the top 10.) Auburn opens with a three-game home set with No. 2 Vanderbilt, and next weekend goes for three more at No. 3 LSU.

Later on, there are series with No. 10 Mississippi State, No. 8 Ole Miss and, in the regular season finale, No. 11 Arkansas.

But everything the Tigers promised about their team has stood up through 16 games. The starters are capable (tomorrow, you’ll read about Chattahoochee Valley CC product Mike O’Neal before he gets the start Saturday), the bullpen is blazing and the young hitters are in their comfort zone quicker than expected.

Somebody around here’s got to start winning, and soon.

Play ball. Pretty please?

Aaron Brenner, abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

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