May 16, 2013
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN — Conner Kendrick was working hard, and he didn't even know it.
"My pitch count got high. I didn't realize it until they told me."
The Auburn pitcher fired up 119 pitches in 7 1/3 innings, but allowed only four hits as the Tigers had one of their biggest wins of the season, a 3-0 victory over No. 11 Arkansas in Plainsman Park. The Tigers, winners for the seventh time in their last nine games, improved to 32-21 overall and 12-16 in the SEC as they make a late-season push to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
They can help their cause in the final two regular-season games of the year, against Arkansas at 6 p.m. Friday and 1 p.m. Saturday, before heading to next week's SEC Tournament.
Kendrick relied on his off-speed pitches to improve to 5-3. Arkansas fell to 34-18 overall and 17-10 in the SEC. Starter Barrett Astin fell to 4-4.
Garrett Cooper, who talked this week about the importance of the series, didn't back down Thursday, hitting a two-run double in the third.
"We have to win this series no matter what," he said. "It's the biggest series of the year."
Kendrick said Cooper's hit "was the turning point of the ballgame for me. It gave me an opportunity to make a few mistakes, and that was huge."
Auburn coach John Pawlowski said Cooper hit "gave us confidence. We knew runs were going to be really tough to come by."
Auburn added a run in the eighth on a Hunter Kelley double and an error that allowed Mitchell Self to score. That was plenty for Kendrick and closer Terrance Dedrick, who finished up the game for his ninth save of the season.
Mitchell Self was a super sub for Auburn. Self, who was batting .154 with only 26 at-bats this season, went 3-for-3 and scored twice. He was in for Damek Tomscha, who was out with a slight groin injury.
"You always wait for your opportunity to get in the game you want to take advantage of it," Self said.
Auburn will start Michael O'Neal (8-2, 2.85 ERA) against Ryne Stanek (7-2, 1.70 ERA) in Friday's game.
"We know we have a lot of work to do, and the challenge in the ballgame tonight was find a way," Pawlowski said. "Tomorrow will be another great challenge."
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