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FRIDAY, APRIL 27, 2007
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AU continues to dig out of hole in SEC

By Bradley Handwerger
bhandwerger@decaturdaily.com · 340-2462

Auburn’s baseball team is 6-4 during the past 10 Southeastern Conference games.

It has won two of the past four series, including taking 2 of 3 from Alabama last weekend.

And yet, the questions still come.

Tom Slater’s club can’t live down that 0-8 start in the SEC, the same slide that could possibly keep the Tigers (27-17, 6-12 SEC) out of the conference’s postseason party in Hoover.

Auburn’s next task in its effort to stay alive for the SEC tournament is to try to win this weekend’s three-game set against the SEC’s best team, No. 7 Arkansas (33-11, 13-5).

On Thursday’s SEC coaches’ teleconference, Arkansas writers became the latest bunch to pose questions to Slater about the rough conference start.

Slater, in return, gave his standard answer about how he really likes his team and believes the Tigers are “still in the hunt” for the SEC tournament.

The cause for the turnaround?

Pitching, Slater said.

“We’ve pitched well on Fridays and Saturdays and that’s helped a lot,” Slater said.

Paul Burnside has turned into Auburn’s Friday night ace, winning his past three starts against Alabama, South Carolina and LSU. He is 7-1 with a 3.06 ERA.

But with the Tigers needing a Friday win against Arkansas, Burnside will not be available because of an upper bicep strain, Slater said.

“The doctor tells me he’s day to day,” Slater said.

So Slater moved Evan Crawford (4-3, 5.28 ERA) into the Friday spot. Crawford was reliable last year, Slater said, but has been less so in 2007 because of a confidence issue.

“He was going to be our No. 1 and had some scuffles early,” Slater said. “I think he lost some confidence. But I think he’s got that back now just from talking to him.”

Nevertheless, Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn isn’t overlooking the Tigers.

“They struggled a little bit,” Van Horn said. “It doesn’t mean they can’t turn it around. I think that happened last weekend when they beat Alabama pretty handily a couple of times.”

Auburn need look no further than the Razorbacks’ series against Georgia a week ago to see that Arkansas isn’t taking lower-tier conference teams lightly.

The Bulldogs, tied for last in the SEC with Auburn, stormed out to a 6-1 Friday night win over Arkansas.

Instead of wallowing in the defeat, however, Arkansas came right back, earning the series’ victory with 7-6 and 9-3 wins Saturday and Sunday.

“We’ve been playing pretty steady baseball,” Van Horn said. “Not too many lows, not too many highs. Real proud of how the team has stayed consistent this year.”

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