Kendall Firing On All Cylinders For Tigers

Auburn sophomore starter Will Kendall discusses his development and his hot start to 2012.

Auburn, Ala.—As a true freshman in 2011 Auburn left-hander Will Kendall appeared in just five games and had no appearances in Southeastern Conference games as he finished with just 12 1/3 innings pitched. What a difference one year can make.

Now a mainstay in the Tigers' pitching rotation, Kendall is 4-0 with a 2.14 ERA and has become one of the biggest surprises not only for Auburn, but in the entire league.

"As a freshman you come in and you're not sure what to expect and not sure what the coaches think about you," Coach John Pawlowski said. "You don't know if you're going to be in the rotation or not. There is a lot of uncertainty. He struggled a little bit over the summer, but in the second half he really caught fire. He was pitching well and when he came back we noticed some maturity from him.

"When we gave him the opportunity to start it took on a life of its own," Pawlowski added. "You could see that confidence and the way he carried himself."

Coming to Auburn out of Pope High in Marietta, Kendall was a highly-recruited player as a two-time All-State performer in Georgia. When he arrived at Auburn, however, things weren't easy for the six-foot-three lefty as he suddenly found out what life in major college baseball was all about.

"It's so much different," Kendall said. "You come in from high school and it's a lot faster. The speed of the game is so much faster. For me it took some time to kind of get used to that and get used to having the confidence that I can throw at this high of a level."

Making five appearances, all in mop-up duty for the Tigers, Kendall didn't get much of a chance to show what he could do as a freshman and that cut into his confidence on the mound. After the season he pitched in the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League in New York and it proved to be just what the doctor ordered.

Pitching for the Amsterdam Mohawks, Kendall found his groove on the mound as a reliever and it set the stage for his breakout year with the Tigers. Kendall said following his first year at Auburn he needed to get some innings in and his summer allowed him to do just that.

"It was huge for me," Kendall said. "Even though I didn't have the kind of role I would have liked to have had, it was huge having that experience under my belt and going into the offseason knowing what I needed to improve on. I kind of built on what Coach P and Coach Fox (Scott Foxhall) told me I needed to work on.

"It was mainly getting my confidence back," he added. "I wanted to find my comfort zone on the mound. In high school I had a lot of confidence and I had pitched a lot. My freshman year I sparingly threw so getting back in the rhythm of throwing was probably the biggest thing.

"Baseball is a game of repetition and the more you have confidence in yourself and the more you throw everything starts coming together," he added.

It wasn't as simple as plugging in Kendall to the rotation this season because junior Slade Smith got the call the first two weeks, but struggled mightily in that role. That opened the door for Kendall and he ran through it beginning with a win over Charleston Southern the third weekend of the season. Allowing five hits and no runs in six and one/third innings, Kendall gave the Tigers a quality start on the mound in his first outing.

However, It was his first road start two weeks later that gave Kendall the confidence to take his pitching to another level. Facing 12th-ranked Ole Miss in front of 7,467 fans in Oxford, Kendall allowed four runs on four hits in five innings, but got the win and proved to himself that he was good enough to get the job done on this level.

"Just going in there for my first-ever SEC game, to start at Ole Miss was incredible," Kendall said. "It was just a huge experience for me. It built my confidence and it has built from there."

While his confidence has soared his earned run average has plummeted. Ninth in the SEC in ERA, Kendall is allowing opponents to hit just .213 this season. What has also helped him is that Auburn is averaging 7.8 runs per game in support of his starts, the most in the conference. All that adds up to Auburn being undefeated on Saturday since Kendall moved into that role in the rotation.

The Tigers will need another outstanding performance from Kendall this weekend as the Tigers travel to Tuscaloosa to face Alabama in a Western Division showdown. While the Crimson Tide is just 1-8 in the league and struggling both offensively and on the mound, Kendall said he's expecting nothing but the best from Auburn's biggest rival.

"If you look at the standings they have kind of struggled a little bit, but Coach P has really stressed that it's a rivalry game," Kendall said. "They could have not won a game before we played them it doesn't matter. You throw the record books out. This is a huge weekend."

Game times for the weekend series are 7 p.m. on Friday, 3 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday. Friday's game can be seen on Fox Sports South while Saturday's game is available on CSS.

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