Staggering to the finish line

HOOVER – Wednesday’s 7-3 loss to South Carolina, the nation’s No. 1 team, in the first round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament on Saturday isn’t the reason Auburn’s baseball team is on the verge of missing out on NCAA regional play.

Senior Editor Phillip Marshall

Heck, South Carolina has played 31 games against SEC teams and has won 23 of them.

No, losing to South Carolina, even for the fourth time this season, really isn’t the problem at all. Auburn’s 14-16 SEC record, though not what anyone wanted, is more than good enough to get John Pawlowski’s third Tiger team into a regional.

The problem is two losses to Samford, two to South Alabama, one to Troy, one to Jacksonville State, one to Bethune Cookman, one to Raford. The problem is blowing an 11-5 in the ninth inning at home against Georgia. The problem is losing two of three at Tennessee, by some distance the worst team in the league. The problem is not being able to put Alabama away on Sunday to complete a sweep. The problem is being swept by Mississippi State.

That something is missing on this Auburn team is clear to anyone who is around it. The talent isn’t equal to that on last season’s team that won 20 SEC games. But it’s certainly good enough that the record should not be 29-28 today.

What is it? Who knows? Finding the answer will certainly be a priority for Pawlowski and his staff in the offseason, which might come well before anyone expected.

Auburn has a better team than Georgia, its opponent in today’s elimination game. The Bulldogs had an even worse day than Auburn, losing 10-0 to Vanderbilt in a seven-inning run-rule game.

Derek Varnadore, Auburn’s best pitcher, will be on the mound. He threw a complete-game shutout against the Bulldogs at Plainsman Park. The Bulldogs are all but finished. They have to win three games in this tournament to qualify for regional play. They know and everyone else knows that’s probably not going to happen.

But if there’s one thing we’ve learned about this Auburn team, it is that nothing should be taken for granted. Sometimes it looks like a really, really good team. And sometimes it is dominated by midweek Sun Belt Conference pitchers.

Pawlowski is extremely optimistic about the future and the signees who are on their way to Auburn. But if the Tigers go two-and-out in the SEC Tournament, the wait until next year will be long in more ways than

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