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AU fans hoping for big year on the diamond

Published 10:37am Wednesday, February 13, 2013

By Andy Graham

I’m not sure you put as much faith into small furry rodents as some, but Punxsutawney Phil assured me a couple of weeks ago that Spring is on its way.
It’s a good thing too, because the Auburn Tigers baseball team opens up its season this Friday with a seldom seen four-game series against the Maine Black Bears at Plainsman Park.
It will be John Pawlowski’s fifth year on the Plains as head coach where he has amassed a record of 134-103.
Believe it or not, John Pawlowski will become Auburn’s fourth-longest tenured baseball coach in its history if he completes year five.  The program has only had 16 coaches in its existence and two men (Paul Nix and Hal Baird) represent 38 years of coaching the Orange and Blue.
The other 14 men make up the remaining 41 years.
The Pawlowski era can hardly be considered a success at this point with a conference record of 58-62 and only one NCAA tournament appearance in the first four years.  On the other hand, it cannot be considered a failure to this point because the program has made some progress during Pawlowski’s tenure.  From 2004-2008, Auburn made only one NCAA tournament appearance and zero SEC tournament appearances.
The Tigers have made the SEC tournament the last three years and hosted an NCAA regional in 2010 under the direction of Pawlowski.  The 2013 team returns the top four hitters from last year’s squad, which led the SEC in hitting and finished 18th in the nation at .304.
Junior Ryan Tella leads the way after an incredibly impressive sophomore season batting .360 and high ranks among the SEC in practically every offensive category.
Seniors Cullen Wacker (.350) and Garrett Cooper (.324), and Junior Dan Glevenyak (.319) also return to give the Tigers a potent lineup with lots of experience. Auburn also returns Sophomore Daniel Koger, who led the Tigers in ERA at 3.19 and was second in innings pitched with 79.
Auburn has a good mix of young talent and veteran leadership, which should put the Tigers in a position to succeed in 2013, but it won’t be easy.
Baseball America’s preseason top 25 has the SEC represented eight times in its initial poll.  Four of the top 13 teams reside in the SEC West (#3 Arkansas, #5 Mississippi State, #10 LSU and #13 Ole Miss).  As usual, the SEC will be ultra-competitive and it will take an inspired effort by any team to win the league.
The last time the Tigers won the outright SEC championship was 1978.  After a brutal 3-9 season in football and a typically woeful basketball season, Auburn University desperately needs a good year from a major sport.
Not to put too much pressure on the Tigers, but one more dreadful sports season might push this fan base over the edge.
Who am I kidding?  Auburn fans will be convinced they can win 10 football games by A-day.
Graham is a columnist for The Outlook.

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