HOOVER, Ala. — With Tanner Burns out for the SEC Tournament due to shoulder discomfort he experienced against LSU, and Jack Owen not available until later in the week after throwing 97 pitches in 7.0 innings last Friday, Elliot Anderson has gotten the call for the start in Auburn’s first game of the tournament.
The first round of games are single elimination. If No. 8-seeded Auburn loses to No. 9-seeded Tennessee then Auburn is out of the tournament. If the Tigers get the win they move on to face No. 1-seeded Vanderbilt on Wednesday in the double elimination portion of the tournament.
This season Auburn’s first SEC opponent was Tennessee on March 15-17 at Plainsman Park. The Tigers swept the Volunteers in that series. Since then both teams have gone 14-16 in SEC play. Auburn finished the regular season 32-23, while Tennessee finished with an overall record 38-18. Auburn did have the No. 1 strength of schedule this season.
“I’m proud of our ball club,” said Auburn head coach Butch Thompson. “To get 14 wins, to have the number one strength of schedule in America, to go through that and be a top 20 RPI team. Especially with 18 new players, I’m really proud of how they’ve hung in there. Every time we feel like we’ve really slowed down, we’ve had that character game or that game of resilience.”
The two teams had drastically different ends to their seasons. Tennessee lost its final regular season game against No. 15 Ole Miss, but the Vols did win their last two conference series against Florida and No. 15 Ole Miss.
Auburn lost its final two conference series against Georgia and LSU. The Tigers won only four of their last 12 conference games. Auburn did get a big final win against LSU with a walk-off in extra innings in Baton Rouge.
The Volunteers have not been in the tournament since 2016 while this year is the Tigers third appearance in the last four seasons. Auburn is 34-48 all time in the conference tournament in its total 27 program appearances. It is 13-13 in opening games. Last season Auburn won two games in the tournament, its most since 2003.
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“Every game tomorrow, on Tuesday, day one is about you have to earn something to get to stay in this tournament,” Thompson said. “That’s what makes our SEC Tournament amazing as well. We are playing for a lot tomorrow.”
This is the first time the two teams have faced each other in postseason play. Auburn posts a 95-39 record against Tennessee.
Tennessee comes into the game ranked ninth in the league in batting average with a .267 team average and 356 runs scored. Alerick Soularie leads the team with a .365 average. Andre Lipcius has 16 home runs and 56 RBI.
Pitching wise, the Volunteers are fifth in the league and 20th in the county with a 3.57 ERA. They are tied for first in the nation with 10 shut out games this year.
Tennessee’s tough offense could provide problems for Anderson as he posts a 11.37 ERA after his two starts at Mississippi State and LSU. Anderson does lead the team with five wins, after having 3.13 ERA as a relief pitcher.
Tennessee is also a big threat on the bases. It has over 100 stolen bases this year. Jay Charleston has 38 while Justin Ammons has 20.
Anderson is aware of the threat the Vols post at the plate and one the base path and knows how he thinks is the best way to approach the threat.
“We’ve got some great outfielders out there that cover a lot of ground out there, and the infield’s solid, middle’s solid,” Anderson said. “Sometimes, like, you play at places that, the ball will fly a little bit, and as a pitcher that’s kind of hard, for some, to adjust to, but if you stay in the bottom of the zone and live there, you won’t get hurt very much and it’ll give the defense the chance to play and it’ll keep them in the game and keep them focused and ready for every pitch.”
Tennessee with turn to Garrett Stallings on the mound. He is 8-3 on the year, and in his last regular season appearance he threw a complete-game shutout, his second of the year.
Auburn’s offense has been on and off all throughout the year. Against Tennessee scored a total of 12 runs over the course of the three game series and had only three extra-base hits. The Tigers did not have more than seven hits in any of those games.
In the Tigers first two games against LSU, they had only four hits and two runs in two games. In Game Three, the offense made a complete turn around. Auburn had 10 hits and scored five runs to get the 5-4 win. It was able to get the timely hits, like the two-run homer from Matt Scheffler that tied the game and Will Holland’s walk-off double.
"We keep trying to find ourselves," Thompson said. "If we keep clicking away and get hot again, it could be pretty neat. We’ve been waiting for a while and the guys have hung in there, so that’s what makes me optimistic and hopeful that it could come back online again.”
Auburn is aware of how success in this tournament can effect its chances to go to a NCAA Regional for the third straight year and continue its season. A victory against Tennessee is a big part of keeping that dream alive.
“To win, I mean, we got to win this first game, you know,” Holland said. “That’s all we’re worried about right now is this next game against Tennessee to kind of put us in a good position to win some games in the tournament and maybe further postseason things.”
Auburn will play Tennessee on Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. CST at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium in Hoover, Alabama. The game will be broadcast on the SEC Network.
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