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Stretch run awaits 1st-place Tigers

Three weeks ago, Auburn’s baseball team was 2-7 in the Southeastern Conference and looking like anything but a championship contender.

Auburn won two out of three from Ole Miss to move into a tie for first place in the SEC West.

Things have changed. The Tigers, defending SEC West Division champions, have flipped that record, going 7-2 in league play and winning consecutive series over Kentucky and LSU on the road and Ole Miss at home. They are in a three-way tie for first place with Ole Miss and Arkansas.

With four series remaining, the West Division is there for the taking. Five teams remain in contention.

Auburn (22-17, 9-9), Arkansas (29-11, 9-9) and Ole Miss (24-17, 9-9) are a game ahead of Alabama (25-18 and 8-10). Auburn has a leg up because it earned tiebreakers by beating Ole Miss and Arkansas head-to-head.

Alabama, once 7-1 in SEC play, is in a tailspin. The Tide has lost nine of its last 10 SEC games and was swept at Florida over the weekend.

Arkansas had a stunning weekend, losing two out of three at Kentucky. The Wildcats entered the series with 12 consecutive SEC losses.

Lurking in the background is Mississippi State (7-11, 24-16), a game behind Alabama and just two games behind the frontrunners.

LSU (24-18, 4-14), the preseason favorite, is all but out of the race.

Auburn faces its toughest test of the season next weekend when it goes to play No.2 South Carolina, but closes with home series against unranked Alabama and Georgia and on the road against unranked Tennessee.

With South Carolina, Florida and Vanderbilt tied atop the East with 12-4 league records, the West Division champion will likely be the No. 2 seed in the SEC Tournament at Regions Park in Hoover. The top eight teams, regardless of division, go to the tournament.

Here are the roads to the finish line faced by the contenders in the West:

AUBURN: At South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, at Tennessee.

ARKANSAS: At Georgia, Florida, at South Carolina, Ole Miss.

OLE MISS: At Florida, South Carolina, Mississippi State, at Arkansas

ALABAMA: At Mississippi State, LSU, at Auburn, South Carolina.

MISS. STATE: Alabama, at Tennessee, at Ole Miss, LSU.

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