When the straw that stirs the drink in your athletic program claims a national championship, it tends to raise the bar for all other sports. That’s certainly been the case at Auburn this year. With a national title in the books for football, fans are now asking when it will happen in basketball and baseball.
While Auburn basketball coach Tony Barbee has been given a pass in his first season, such is not the case for baseball coach John Pawlowski. As Auburn prepares for the SEC Baseball Tournament in Hoover, many fans are still shaking their heads wondering what might have been this year.
After claiming the SEC West title a year ago and playing Clemson to the wire in the NCAA Regional, hopes were high for Pawlowski’s third Auburn team. Several preseason polls had them in the Top 25.
After its monumental collapse this weekend in Knoxville, many are now wondering what direction the program is heading.
Needing to win two-of-three from the worst team in the conference to claim the SEC West, Auburn gave up two runs in the bottom of ninth on Saturday at Tennessee to blow its chance at a second-seed in this week’s tournament.
Trying to get a handle on this squad is akin to cracking the code to why Alabama fans don’t brush their teeth. There are just some things we’ll never know. This Auburn team has had the most contradictory season in school history – in any sport.
After starting the season 2-7 in SEC play, it finished the year 12-9 down the stretch, including six conference series wins. Yet they lost to Samford twice and gave up wins to Jacksonville State and Troy.
Instead of going to Hoover a second-seed, Auburn backs into the tournament as the eighth-seed and must face top-seeded South Carolina on Wednesday. With seemingly everything to play for this weekend in Knoxville, Pawlowski’s team decided to throw in the towel.
Watching Auburn dominate in series wins over Georgia and Alabama, you get the feeling this unit can make some noise this week. Then again, they may not show up at all.
Being put in the same bracket as South Carolina and Vanderbilt appears to be a death warrant. Despite going 0-6 against both schools in the regular season, things may not be as bad as they appear.
With NCAA Region bids already locked up for the Gamecocks and Commodores, both coaches are likely to go easy on their pitching staffs. This should give Auburn a fighting chance. It’s widely believed Auburn must get two wins in Hoover to make the NCAA field.
I’m a firm believer Pawlowski is still the right man for the job. However, this year will likely be his last mulligan. A 29-27 record won’t get it at Auburn or any other SEC school.
This program has the facilities and commitment to be contenders for the College World Series. In a year where things were suppose to move forward, they fell back. It’s time to look ahead… and that starts on Wednesday.