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May 9, 2013

SEC baseball preview: Momentum swings in favor of Auburn bats following a long slump

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – Momentum shifts can be violent even over the course of a long baseball season.3Auburn2 (4)

It wasn’t so long ago Auburn had produced a mere 13 runs in eight consecutive SEC games. Suddenly, following a dismal 6-1 loss at home to Ole Miss, the Tigers busted out 34 runs over the next four games, to take the series from the ranked Rebels and chalk up two more comeback victories over Jacksonville State and Samford.

Just like that, Auburn (29-19, 9-15 SEC) has its longest winning streak of the year that involves conference games.

“Our confidence level offensively is as high as it’s been all year,” Auburn coach John Pawlowski said.

“Certainly last weekend against Ole Miss, I thought we did some real positive things, had some real good approaches, and we’re going to need some good approaches this weekend against Florida.”

The Tigers remain in last place in the SEC West, a game back of Texas A&M. Florida (27-23, 12-12) is sneaking up on South Carolina for second place in the Eastern division, and serves as the host for Auburn’s final road series of the year.

“You go through peaks and valleys during the course of the season,” Pawlowski said. “Very few teams are that consistent every game. You’ve got a couple teams in our league who have done that this year – Vanderbilt and LSU. But everybody else has had their high moments and their low moments. We certainly went through it also.”

Indeed, Vanderbilt and LSU are running away with the league. Georgia heads to South Carolina clinging to faint hope of an SEC Tournament berth, while Alabama will host Missouri in weekend series.

The Tigers will trot out left-handers Conner Kendrick and Michael O’Neal (Pacelli) in the first two games of the series, with Sunday’s starter undetermined as usual. O’Neal (8-3, 2.70 ERA) and Kendrick (3-3, 2.34) are over the 60-inning mark, and Pawlowski’s pleased with their arm health at this point of the season.

“Very good. Those guys work very hard in preparation for their start,” Pawlowski said. “Their conditioning, the weight lifting, our trainer, they do a great job. So they’re holding up fine.”

Two days later, Pawlowski was still in awe of the circumstances of his 500t h career victory Tuesday – a staggering comeback from eight runs down, when Auburn poured on 12 runs in the top of the eighth at Jacksonville State.

“I have never been a part of something like that. When it started, it just seemed the momentum just kept going,” Pawlowski said. “I kind of just stepped back, that’s when you let it take over. We didn’t try to do anything; we just try to let those guys have quality at-bats. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

The SEC Tournament is around the corner, scheduled May 21-26 in Hoover, Ala.

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SEC STANDINGS AND SCHEDULE

Eastern Division
Vanderbilt | 42-6, 21-2
South Carolina | 34-14, 13-10
Florida | 27-23, 12-12
Kentucky | 28-19, 10-14
Missouri | 15-28, 7-17
Tennessee | 19-26, 6-16
Georgia | 18-28, 5-16

Western Division
LSU | 43-6, 19-5
Arkansas | 32-16, 15-8
Mississippi State | 36-13, 13-11
Ole Miss | 33-16, 12-12
Alabama | 29-21, 11-12
Texas A&M | 26-22, 10-13
Auburn | 29-19, 9-15

Weekend series (Friday-Sunday unless noted)
LSU at Texas A&M (Thursday-Saturday)
Auburn at Florida
Georgia at South Carolina
Mississippi State at Ole Miss
Missouri at Alabama
Tennessee at Arkansas
Vanderbilt at Kentucky

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