Auburn now falls to 32-22 overall and 12-17 in SEC play while Arkansas improves to 35-18, 18-10 in league action. On a night when the Tigers had several chances to make something happen at the plate, Pawlowski says the Razorbacks were just too good.
"Going into the game, when you face guys that have their numbers and talent on the mound, you're going to have to match them pitch-by-pitch," Pawlowski says. "Unfortunately tonight we had some opportunities to score, but they made big pitches in big situations.
"I was hoping we could get a guy in scoring position with something other than two outs, but it didn't work out," he adds. "We couldn't come up with that big key hit."
With a Kentucky loss to Missouri, Auburn will be the 10th seed in next week's SEC Tournament and will play the #7 seed in the second game on Tuesday. There is still more work to be done for the Tigers as they likely need another win on Saturday to have any chance at earning a bid into the NCAA Tournament. Pawlowski says his team understands the importance of tomorrow's game and its impact on the rest of the season.
"Our team understands exactly what we've got to do," Pawlowski says. "We talked about every game is an important game and the magnitude of every game is that we've got to go out and play to win. There are a lot of opportunities when you start the season, but as the season progresses you have to take advantage of it. Tomorrow is another opportunity for us."
Taking the loss, O'Neal was brilliant for Auburn on the mound. Batting Stanek pitch for pitch, the junior left-hander allowed just four hits and one earned run in seven innings and struck out three. Unfortunately for him he faced off against one of the nation's best.
In seven and two/thirds innings Stanek allowed just six hits and struck out four as his ERA fell to just 1.54. He earned his eighth win of the season while Colby Suggs closed it out for his 11th save. It was the fourth time this SEC season that Stanek followed an Arkansas loss in the series opener and his ERA in those starts is now 0.33 following his fourth win.
"Coming in you know you're facing one of the best pitching staffs in the nation," O'Neal says. "You can't give up a run basically. I got a ground ball up the middle so I didn't touch it because I thought it was going to be a double play. Just one run kills you sometimes."
Allowing the run in the third inning, O'Neal retired the next 14 Arkansas hitters before coming out of the game in the eighth inning. He says it was just a night when he decided to challenge the hitters and fill up the strike zone.
"I was just trying to throw strikes," O'Neal says. "I was being careful before that. You have that thought that you can't give up a run. Once you've given it up you have to pound it and try to save the bullpen for tomorrow. That's what I tried to do and give us a chance to win tomorrow."
After a solid first inning, O'Neal ran into trouble in the second as catcher Jake Wise reached on an infield single to put the Razorbacks in business. Facing first baseman Eric Fisher, O'Neal looked like he would allow a run as the left-hander sliced one down the left field line. Playing third base for the second night in the row, Mitchell Self dove to his left and snared the ball for the second out of the inning. It proved to be a huge play as Jordan Farris followed with a single that likely would have scored two runs. Instead with runners on first and second O'Neal got Brett McAfee on a fly ball to keep the game scoreless.
Leaving two runners on in the first inning and another in the second, Auburn's offense stalled out against Stanek and the Razorbacks made the Tigers pay in the third inning. Leading off, Matt Vinson walked and it proved to be a costly mistake for O'Neal. Getting a ground ball out that advanced the runner to second, the Auburn junior left a pitch over the plate that Tyler Spoon ripped into left field for a single.
With runners on first and third and Dominic Ficociello at the plate, O'Neal again missed his spot as the Arkansas third baseman singled up the middle to score Vinson for the 1-0 Arkansas lead. O'Neal recovered to get the next two hitters though as Auburn trailed by a run against one of the nation's top pitchers.
That's how things would remain into the eighth inning as both pitchers continued to dominate the action. O'Neal retired the Razorbacks in order in innings four through seven to keep the Tigers in the game, but the offense couldn't make anything happen. In the bottom of the seventh with two outs Hunter Kelley took a pitch the other way for a ground rule double. Up with two outs, Cullen Wacker struck out on a nasty slider to keep Stanek's shutout intact.
Retiring 14-straight Arkansas hitters, O'Neal walked Matt Vinson on his 100th pitch of the game. That was all for the left-hander as Reid Carter came on in relief for the Tigers. The Auburn native walked Anderson before a sacrifice bunt moved the runners into scoring position with one out with Ficociello at the plate. Playing the odds, Auburn walked the big hitter to load the bases with one out. Facing pinch hitter Joe Serrano, Carter got a ground ball to Dan Glevenyak at shortstop. He flipped to Jordan Ebert at second who finished off the double play to Garrett Cooper to end the threat.
In the eighth Auburn again threatened as Cooper walked to lead off the inning. Following a Patrick Savage fly ball to right field, Glevenyak hit a ground ball off of the glove of Stanek on the mound that bounced right to Ficociello at third. His throw to first retired Glevenyak for the second out of the inning. That brought Ebert to the plate and the freshman worked a walk to put runners on first and second with two outs and bring Tella to the plate.
That was the end of the night for Stanek as left-handed reliever Jalen Beeks came out of the Arkansas bullpen to face the lefty Tella. Getting him on the pop-up to end the inning meant the Tigers had failed to get a hit with a runner on second and two outs for the fourth time on the night.
Auburn is expected to send redshirt freshman Justin Camp to the mound in Saturday's regular season finale while Arkansas will counter with senior Randall Fant. The first pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m.