After starting the first half of SEC play 5-10, Auburn has turned its season around and now sits 17-13 in conference and clinched the No. 5 seed in the SEC Tournament after sweeping Missouri to close the regular season.
The Tigers are riding an eight-game SEC winning streak, the longest streak since Auburn’s 1995 team won nine in a row as a part of a 50-win season, and hope to reverse previous early exits in the SEC Tournament.
In 2022, Auburn lost its first game in Hoover to 12-seeded Kentucky. In 2021, the Tigers lost their first game to Ole Miss. In 2019, Auburn won its first game against Tennessee but dropped its next two games and exited the tournament.
This year as the Tigers are red hot entering the tournament, Auburn aims to at least win multiple games in Hoover for the first time since 2018 and carry its momentum into regional play.
“Your goal is to win every single year,” said catcher Nate LaRue. “... We come into August with one thing on our mind, and that’s going to be dogpiling in Omaha being the last team standing.”
In 2022 fresh off a three-game series against Kentucky, Auburn was the five seed in the tournament and had to face the Wildcats again. The Tigers lost 3-1.
Auburn is in a similar situation again in 2023 as Auburn just swept Missouri, clinched the five seed and now must face Missouri again.
The Tigers defeated Missouri with relative ease in the first two games, only allowing two runs while scoring 11, and orchestrated a late-game comeback in game three to complete the sweep. However, head coach Butch Thompson said his team must look at the game in Hoover as just the next game of the series, not a completely separate game.
“The only other thing I told the team today (Monday) is it’s not like a new game,” said head coach Butch Thompson. “This is a continuation of a series we’ve just taken. Maybe it’s rained a couple of days, and this is game four.”
Thompson also noted that “it’s interesting to play the same team,” and that his players must recognize if the Missouri pitchers pitch exactly like they did over the weekend or “has somebody been in a cage working on that to take that away?”
With 10 freshmen on the team, Auburn’s roster is filled with loads of players who have not played in the SEC Tournament. But the Tigers also have five seniors on the roster who have stepped into leadership roles. Two of those seniors were honored Monday to All-SEC teams as third baseman Bryson Ware was named to the Second Team All-SEC, and outfielder Kason Howell was named to the SEC All-Defensive Team. Thompson said he’s relying on those veterans to maintain their leadership positions while the team is in Hoover.
“The Kason, the LaRue, the (Bobby) Peirce, those guys set the temperature. They set the rhythm.” Thompson said. “They’ve gotten in such a good leadership position, all these other guys have to do is get with them. They have the temperature of the room set, and all they have to do is watch your example because our leaders are locked in.”
As Auburn enters the SEC Tournament, the Tigers are also looking to boost their resume in hopes of hosting a regional. According to D1baseball.com’s current projections, Auburn is sitting as the No. 12 overall seed, and therefore would host a regional as the top 16 seeds host.
Auburn will get some help in its pitching rotation as it tries to bolster its resume, as Thompson announced that starting pitcher Tommy Vail has fully recovered from an illness and is ready to go for the SEC Tournament. Vail made an appearance out of the bullpen in the final game against Missouri but will be back as a starter for the tournament.
Furthermore, Thompson said starting pitcher Christian Herberholz has a “slight chance” of playing toward the end of the weekend if Auburn makes it that far. Herberholz has not pitched since May 13 at Ole Miss.
Auburn opens its first game of the SEC Tournament May 23 against Missouri. The game will begin 30 minutes after the conclusion of Alabama vs Kentucky which starts at 4:30 p.m. CST and will be broadcast on SEC Network. The winner will face Vanderbilt in the second round Wednesday.
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Jacob Waters is a junior majoring in journalism. From Leeds, Alabama, he started with The Plainsman in fall 2021.