AUBURN – For right seniors on Auburn’s baseball team, the end is near. Along with some juniors likely to be drafted, they will face a clearly defined mission in the Southeastern Conference Tournament in Hoover:
Jon Luke Jacobs will start Auburn's SEC Tournament opener.
Win at least one game or move on to the next stage of their lives.
Auburn (29-27), the No. 8 seed, will play South Carolina (42-12), the nation's No. 1 team and the No. 1 seed, at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday at Regions Park. The Tigers must win at least one game in the double-elimination tournament to qualify for an NCAA regional.
Senior second baseman Justin Hargett said Monday the Tigers have to put the roller-coaster of a regular season behind them and focus on playing the SEC’s best team.
“We just have to go out there with confidence and pull out a win,” Hargett said.
The Tigers had a chance to be West Division co-champion and the No. 2 seed in the tournament, but it got away in a 4-3 loss at Tennessee on Saturday.
“I’m not upset, because I feel like this team is giving its best effort,” Hargett said. “Things haven’t come easy for us all year. We’ve had to deal with adversity. We just need to put everything behind us and go out and win.”
Senior first baseman Kevin Patterson echoed those thoughts.
“We know what we have to do to get to a regional,” Patterson said. “It would be a shame if we went two and out and that was the end. The end is near for us older guys. We understand that. We want to be in position to compete for a regional, a super regional and Omaha.”
JACOBS GETS THE CALL
Junior Jon Luke Jacobs will get the call on the mound for the Tigers on Wednesday. At South Carolina on April 29, Jacobs had a career game. He pitched eight innings, giving up five hits and one run. He struck out nine. But the Gamecocks scored a run in the bottom of the ninth off Dillon Ortman to win 2-1.
“I think he’s gotten better and better,” Pawlowski said. “He’s been out there and been in big situations. He knows what he has to do and is certainly capable of doing it.”
TIGERS TO FACE GAMECOCKS’ ACE
South Carolina coach Ray Tanner said Monday morning on the SEC teleconference that ace Michael Roth would probably not start the opener. Later in the day, that changed.
“It appears Michael Roth is going to start opening day,” Tanner said. “… We were pretty much set that Michael would go on Thursday. After meeting with Michael, he said the tournament starts on Wednesday. We explained all the reasons he might want to wait until Thursday and that kind of thing.”
But, Tanner said, Roth wanted to pitch Wednesday, which wasn’t the best of news for Auburn. Roth is 10-3 with a 1.28 ERA.
It will be a rematch of the pitching duel won 2-1 by South Carolina in Columbia on April 29.
Auburn has to win one game to be eligible for a regional. How many does it need to win to assure itself of making the 64-team field? Pawlowski wouldn’t speculate.
“I don’t really know what that final number is,” Pawlowski said. “There are so many variables still out there and so many games to be played in tournament play. I don’t know what else to tell this team. I don’t have that answer. What I do know is the kids are going to go out and play hard and they are going to compete and hopefully find a way to hang around in this tournament for a while.”
Designated hitter Dan Gamache, already nursing a hamstring injury, suffered a hand injury Thursday at Tennessee and is doubtful for the SEC Tournament.
Outfielder Bobby Andrews, who suffered a wrist injury against Georgia, pinch hit against Tennessee and put down a bunt. He was not cleared to swing the bat, but could be cleared in time for the tournament.
Left-hander Cory Luckie, who has pitched just once in the last five series because of arm problems, made the trip to Tennessee and will be available.