May 17, 2013
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN — Auburn's Michael O'Neal knew he had little room for error Friday night, not against Ryne Stanek, not against one of the best pitching staffs in the nation.
"Just one run. That kills you sometimes."
It did for Auburn in a 1-0 loss to Arkansas in a game the likes the Tigers haven't seen in 17 years. It was the first 1-0 game Auburn has been involved in since a loss to Alabama in 1996.
Auburn will close out the regular-season at 1 p.m. Saturday in Plainsman Park looking to continue what it hopes is a run toward an NCAA Regional. Saturday's loss locked the Tigers into the 10th seed for next Tuesday's SEC Tournament opener in Hoover. Auburn will play either Alabama or Florida.
But first, Auburn wants to finish the regular season on a positive note to strengthen its case for the NCAAs.
"They understand exactly what we've got to do," said Auburn coach John Pawlowski. "There are a lot of opportunities when you start the season, but as the season progresses, you've got to take advantage of it. Tomorrow is another opportunity for us."
The Tigers fell to 32-22 overall and 12-17 in the SEC. No. 11 Arkansas improved to 35-18 overall and 18-10 in the league.
The first two games of the Arkansas series has been all about pitching. Auburn won Thursday's game 3-0. Saturday's finale will feature another top-flight Arkansas pitcher in Randall Fant, who has a 5-1 record and a 2.00 ERA. Auburn hasn't announced its starting pitcher.
Dominic Ficociello drove in the only run in the third. O'Neal retired the last 14 hitters he faced, allowing just four hits in seven innings in falling to 8-4. Stanek improved to 8-2 after allowing six hits in 7 2/3 innings. Colby Suggs pitched an inning for his 11th save.
"You know coming in you're facing one of the best pitching staffs in the nation, and you can't give up a run. That's what it feels like," O'Neal said.
"Going into the game," Pawlowski said, "when you face guys who have their numbers and the talent they have on the mound, you're going to have to match them pitch by pitch. We had a few opportunities to score, but they made some big pitches in big situations."
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