May 20, 2013
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN — Auburn's John Pawlowski has watched his baseball team bounce back from some of the worst schedule luck you could have.
Or is playing two of the best teams in the nation any way to start an SEC season?
It wasn't for Auburn, which was swept by Vanderbilt and LSU to start the conference schedule But that 0-6 start has been partially erased, and now Pawlowski says he thinks his team, winners of three straight SEC series, has done enough to make an NCAA Regional.
Of course, beating Alabama in the Southeastern Conference Tournament around 12:15 p.m. in Hoover on Tuesday would help the Tigers' cause even more.
"I feel like our team deserves to be in a regional," Pawlowski said. "I feel like our club has put ourselves in that position, and feel like we deserve, not only to get into a regional, but to be considered for everything that postseason presents itself."
Auburn and Alabama each won two of the four games they played against each other this year. The fifth game will see Auburn starter Conner Kendrick, who is 5-3 with a 2.03 ERA, face Justin Kamplain, who is 1-0 with a 4.53 ERA.
You know, Auburn-Alabama. Again.
"It’s an intriguing storyline, and I know our guys are excited to play," Pawlowski said. "It happens to be that we are playing Alabama adds a little more interest from that perspective."
What can be made of the first four games?
"We’re a totally different club," Pawlowski said. "I think that’s the biggest thing with our club is the way we started and where we are now, we are a totally different club."
The tournament opens Tuesday with a single-elimination round. Loser leaves town. Games on Wednesday through Friday are double-elimination. Saturday and Sunday is single-elimination again.
Kendrick hopes to keep Auburn around. His last outing was especially promising. He didn't allow a run in 7 1/3 innings in a 3-0 win over Arkansas last Friday, and earned SEC Pitcher of the Week honors for it.
Kendrick also knows Alabama. It was in a 6-3 win over the Tide in the Capital City Classic that he showed he had the stamina to be a starter when he came out of the bullpen and shut out Alabama over six innings.
"Going deep into the game allowed me to get some more innings and to have a little bit more stamina for becoming a starter," he said. "Coming out of the pen, you are just coming with max effort every pitch, and as a starter, you’ve got to tone that back a little bit, so you can go deeper in the game."
But Alabama beat him 6-2 in a rematch in Auburn when his go-to off-speed pitches were not sharp, allowing nine hits and two earned runs in 5 1/3 innings.
"That’s the worst that it has been so far this year," Kendrick said. "I just felt like I was pulling everything right into their bats, and they put some good contact on it that day."
Pawlowski says having to play Vanderbilt and LSU to start the conference season "put us in a hole right out of the gate." Losing two of three the next weekend to Alabama made Auburn 1-8 in the league.
"For our kids, our team and our program to continue to come to the field and work every day and put themselves in a position where we are now, that's a tremendous compliment to this group," he said. "I think our kids regrouped and did a tremendous job."
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