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THURSDAY, MAY 17, 2007
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Tigers trying to end season with wins over Kentucky

By Bradley Handwerger
bhandwerger@decaturdaily.com 340-2462

The anger that used to lace Tom Slater's voice during conference calls has finally subsided.

The third-year Auburn coach, it appears, has come to grips with what has become of a season that, heading into conference play, looked so bright.

That's not to say he's at all OK with falling from No. 10 in the polls to out of the SEC baseball tournament.

"Postseason is not in our plans," Slater said Wednesday as Auburn (29-24, 8-19 SEC) rode a bus to Kentucky. "Right now, we've not had the kind of season in the SEC we would have liked to have. But we'll try to finish out on a strong note at Kentucky."

Just how far has Auburn fallen?

Well, in the 21 games before the SEC schedule, Auburn was 18-3 and ranked 10th in the
country.

The Tigers had defeated annual national power Arizona State twice in a three-game series.

And then the conference season began, Auburn started 0-8, and the hole was too big to climb out.

But the Tigers didn't quit, and went 8-5 in a 13-game stretch where the Tigers showed some promise.

Of course, the positive energy all but died once it became apparent slugger Mike Bianucci wasn't at full strength for a third of the SEC schedule. If that wasn't enough, Auburn lost starting pitcher Justin Bristow for the end of the season with a shoulder injury.

"A lot of things frustrate you in a baseball season," Slater said. "Losing your No. 1 pitcher for the final four weeks of a season, that's frustrating. Playing 10 SEC games without your cleanup hitter due to injury and sickness, that's frustrating."

He added, "Bottom line is you can't worry about what's frustrating and go to work and keep plugging. I give credit to my players. They have kept doing those thing and kept working and kept persevering."

Now Auburn has one more task, to try and end the season on a high note with wins over Kentucky (33-17-1, 12-14-1).

The Tigers already have taken a step in the right direction, ending their series against Vanderbilt this past weekend with a Sunday win. Vanderbilt is ranked No. 1 in the country.

"I think it's important that our kids are continuing to show improvement and continue to play hard," Slater said. "Vanderbilt to me is the most complete team we've played this year. We were fortunate to win the game Sunday."

As for Kentucky, the Wildcats carry a .322 batting average, third-best in the SEC. Seven Kentucky player are hitting above .300. But the pitching staff has been spotty, holding a 4.41 ERA, seventh in the SEC.

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