Now 31-21 on the season and 12-16 in SEC play, Auburn can finish no worse than 11th in the SEC standings thanks to a Tennessee loss to Texas A&M. With more work to be done by his team Auburn Coach John Pawlowski says it was great to see the performance on Thursday night he got from his Tigers.
"We know we have a lot of work to do," Pawlowski says. "The challenge in this game tonight was to find a way. You go into the game and you've got a couple of different guys in the lineup like Mitchell Self and you just have to find a way."
Playing in place of regular third baseman Damek Tomscha, who was out with a strained groin, Self had the night of his career with the Tigers to this point. Hitting just .154 entering the contest with four hits in 26 at-bats this season, Self was 3-3 with two runs scored and made a few nice defensive plays to help the Tigers to victory.
"I found out earlier today that it was my turn to go in and get a chance to play," Self says. "I was just really excited and pumped to be on the field.
"It's awesome," he adds of having a game like Thursday night in a key situation. "You have been waiting for it all year, waiting for your opportunity to get in the game. When it happens you want to take advantage of it. Tonight I just got lucky and got a chance to get out there and do good things."
Baffling Arkansas (34-18, 17-10) hitters all night long with a devastating changeup, Kendrick controlled the game from the outset. Allowing just four hits, three of which were singles, the junior left-hander says it was one of those nights where things just fell into place for him.
"That was definitely my go-to pitch tonight," Kendrick says. "I had a good feel for it and I could throw it on pretty much any count tonight. It just set up some other pitches tonight so it worked out for me.
"Coming off that loss the other night everybody was a little bit down from that," he adds. "We came back today and played well. I think we can move on into the weekend from here."
Following a pair of scoreless innings to open the game Auburn got on the scoreboard in the third against Arkansas starter Barrett Astin. Leading things off, Blake Austin hit a ground ball that ate up Arkansas third baseman Jacob Mahan. The error put the Tigers in business and brought Self to the plate. Faking a bunt, Self laced a single into left field to put runners on first and second with nobody out.
Hunter Kelley attempted to bunt the runners over, but Austin was thrown out at third base for out number one to bring Cullen Wacker to the plate for the Tigers. Tapping a slow roller just in front of the plate, the senior left fielder was thrown out at first for the second out, but the runners moved up to bring Cooper to the plate.
Auburn's top hitter with a .360 average this season, Cooper jumped on the first pitch and drilled a single into left field. Both runners scored on the play to give Kendrick a 2-0 lead to work with.
"It's just big," Cooper says. "You couldn't ask for a better situation than to come up with runners on second and third and get a big two-out hit. That was big for us. What a great job by Conner all night and Terrance came in to close it. It was the right step in the right direction for us."
Garrett Cooper singles to drive home two runs Thursday night
In the top of the fourth the Razorbacks threatened for the first time Thursday night as Brian Anderson's second hit of the game, a double to left field, put a runner in scoring position for the heart of the Arkansas order. Kendrick recovered to get Dominic Ficociello for the second out of the inning before Tyler Spoon singled to left. Charging hard on the play, Wacker fielded the ball cleanly and held Anderson at third with Jake Wise coming to the plate. With runners on the corners Kendrick got wise on a fly ball to Tella in center field to end the threat.
Auburn threatened in the fifth and sixth against Astin before finally getting on the board again in the seventh. Leading things off, Self singled to left field for his third hit of the game to bring Kelley to the plate. Getting a pitch to pull, the right fielder smoked a double into the corner in left field. Off on the pitch, Self raced to third ahead of the throw while Kelley headed for second. Moving from first to third, Dominic Ficociello attempted to throw out Kelley at second but his throw bounced into right field. The error allowed Self to score for the 3-0 Auburn lead.
With an opportunity to break the game open Auburn couldn't add to its lead as Wacker struck out before Cooper was intentionally walked to bring Savage to the plate. Facing reliever Brandon Moore he hit a liner that second baseman Jordan Farris dove and snared. His throw to second doubled off Kelley to end the inning.
Allowing just four hits through the first seven innings, a one-out walk in the top of the eighth was the end of the night for Kendrick as Dedrick came in to try to finish things off. Getting a fly ball for the second out, Dedrick struck out Anderson looking to keep the Auburn lead at three. The junior finished things off in the ninth to earn the save and give the Tigers the lead in the series.