Now 33-22 on the season and 13-17 in SEC play, the Tigers have put themselves squarely on the NCAA bubble heading into next week's SEC Tournament where Coach John Pawlowski's club will face rival Alabama on Tuesday in a single-elimination game for the right to face LSU in round two on Wednesday.
The story on Saturday was Auburn's offense. Trailing 3-1 in the fifth inning, the Tigers broke the game open with eight runs on six hits. That tied for the most runs Arkansas (35-19, 18-11) had allowed in a game this season and was enough to propel Auburn to the win. Pawlowski said his team has had a never-say-die attitude all season and that showed up again on the biggest day of the year for his team.
"The thing is you can get hits, but you have to get them in big situations and we did that today," Pawlowski said. "It was the little things like Dan Glevenyak with the bases loaded getting hit by a pitch that scored another run. We just found different ways to score runs today. After not having much success last night today was a big day for us."
While the big inning was huge, it may not have been possible without the pitching of Trey Cochran-Gill in relief for the Tigers. After starter Justin Camp lasted just two innings, allowing a pair of runs, Cochran-Gill pitched the next five and two-thirds innings for the Tigers. Although he allowed a total of four runs, just one of those came before Auburn broke the game open offensively.
"When I got the call I just wanted to come in and do my job in long relief," Cochran-Gill said. "It was fun. Going out there knowing that we needed to win this series, I just wanted to do everything I could to help the team win."
At the plate Jordan Ebert had three hits for the Tigers, including his fourth home run of the year. Junior Blake Austin also added three hits and drove in three runs while fellow junior Patrick Savage added three hits and a pair of RBI as well. On Senior Day Cullen Wacker added two of Auburn's 14 total hits for the game.
Leading off the fifth inning and looking to make something happen, junior Ryan Tella worked a walk to get things started for the Tigers. Using his speed to steal second with Austin at the plate, Tella moved to third on a sharp single to put the pressure on the Razorbacks. That brought senior Mitchell Self to the plate in a huge situation for Auburn.
Down 3-1 in the count, Self put a bunt down just in front of the plate that Arkansas reliever Brandon Moore fielded cleanly. Attempting to plant his foot and throw to the plate, Moore slid causing his throw to sail wildly past catcher Jake Wise. Tella scored on the play as Austin moved to third. Running hard to first, Self headed for second as Wise attempted to throw him out. Heads up on the play, Austin broke for the plate. The throw was late to allow the Auburn catcher to score and tie the game. Self landed at second when the dust had settled on the wild series of events.
"We needed something to break for us in that inning and that was certainly a huge play," Pawlowski said. "We make that play and the floodgates opened up for the big inning. I was excited to see that for our guys because they have been working hard. Yesterday we got stuffed pretty good, but to come back today and do pretty good was a complement to our guys."
Scoring all the way from first on the play was Austin. Down close to 30 pounds since last season but still built like a linebacker, Austin said that kind of play can ignite a team and that happened for the Tigers on Saturday.
"I have never been a part of that," Austin says. "On a safety bunt I'm running around the bag and people are telling me to go and I don't know what to do. I slide in home and I look up and I'm safe. I didn't know what was going on.
"If you're any kind of a baseball guy and you see a fat catcher running all the way from first to home and he's sliding in to put us up by two or three runs, that's a huge ignitor," he added. "Even Trey Cochran-Gill was out there high-fiving guys. It was huge."
With the momentum Auburn kept the pressure on as Hunter Kelley reached on an infield single and quickly stole second to move into scoring position. Following a Wacker strikeout, Garrett Cooper was walked intentionally to load the bases for Savage. He made the Hogs pay with a single to right field to put the Tigers in front. Up next, Dan Glevenyak was hit by a pitch to force home Kelly for the fourth run of the inning.
Auburn was just getting started however as Ebert singled to score another run. Following a Tella fly ball out, Austin ripped a single just over the head of the Arkansas second baseman to drive in two more runs and give the Tigers an 8-3 lead.
Up for the second time in the inning, Self singled to right field to finish the eight-run outburst for the Tigers and give them a commanding 9-3 lead after five.
The Razorbacks came back with a single run in the sixth before Auburn would answer back in the seventh on another Austin single, this one to score Glevenyak to once again push the lead back to six.
After giving Auburn five quality innings of relief, Cochran-Gill allowed a pair of runs in the eighth inning before giving way to Terrance Dedrick. With two runners on and two outs the junior closer got a fly ball to center field to end the inning. In the ninth Savage singled home pinch-runner Sam Gillikin to give Dedrick the 11-6 lead and he finished it off to earn his 10th save of the season.
Arkansas got the scoring started in the first inning as a two-out walk by Camp to Brian Anderson brought Dominic Ficociello to the plate. Strong from the left side, the junior drilled a double to score Anderson for the 1-0 Hogs lead. In the second Auburn got the run back thanks to Ebert. Getting a pitch to drive, the freshman launched a solo shot over the wall in left field for his fourth home run of the season.
Jordan Ebert homers for the Tigers
The Razorbacks got the lead back quickly in the third as number nine hitter Brett McAfee homered for the first time this season to make it 2-1 Arkansas. That's how things would remain until the top of the fifth when the visitors would add to their lead. Facing Cochran-Gill, catcher Jake Wise walked to lead off the inning and later scored on a McAfee triple to put the Tigers in a two-run hole.
That set the stage for the big inning for the Tigers as they scored eight runs to break things open on the way to the series victory over the 11th-ranked Razorbacks.
Auburn will now look to stay hot as the Tigers face Alabama in the second game of the SEC Tournament on Tuesday that follows the opener of Ole Miss-Kentucky at 9:30 a.m. The winner will face LSU on Wednesday while the loser will put its fate in the hands of the NCAA Selection Committee.