Kendrick And Tigers Hoping To Sink Tide

Auburn is looking to continue its late season run as the Tigers face rival Alabama on Tuesday to open SEC Tournament play.

Auburn, Ala.—Facing an elimination game on Tuesday on the opening day of the SEC Tournament and possibly needing one more win to lock down a spot in the NCAA Tournament, the Auburn Tigers will turn to junior pitcher Conner Kendrick against Alabama to get the job done one more time.

With a record of 5-3 this season and an ERA of just 2.03, Kendrick has been Auburn's top pitcher for much of the season, first out of the bullpen and now as a starter. This will be his third appearance against the Crimson Tide this season with the first two producing wildly different results.

Coming out of the bullpen on March 5 at Riverwalk Stadium in Montgomery, Kendrick had perhaps Auburn's best pitching performance of the season. In six innings he didn't allow a hit and struck out eight batters in the 6-3 victory. Three weeks later the Crimson Tide lit up Kendrick for six runs (two earned) on nine hits in five and one/third innings in a 6-2 Auburn loss.

That makes this the rubber game for Kendrick and the Tigers against Alabama as the team has split the four meetings this season. Very familiar with the lineup he'll be facing in Hoover, Kendrick notes that works two ways and he'll just try to harness the good thoughts from that cold night in Montgomery when he takes the mound.

"I think it's going to work a little bit, but of course they've seen me just as much as I have seen them," Kendrick says. "Having a successful outing against them the first time, I think I can use how I did and translate that over to this next game."

One of the storylines for the opener is that Kendrick will be pitching on just four days' rest. That might be a problem for some pitchers, but for the junior college transfer it's not a big deal. This season his first 10 appearances came in relief before earning the starting nod on the weekend for the Tigers. He believes that experience will make it easier for him to make the quick turnaround.

"After the game on Thursday night against Arkansas they told me I was going to make the start on Tuesday," Kendrick says. "I had to do everything I could over the weekend to get ready for this start.

"It allows your body to recoup maybe a little bit quicker than a starting role," he adds of his relief experience. "I have worked with the staff here and they have me up to about 100 percent now."

Currently 33-22 overall and 13-17 in SEC play, Auburn is the 10th seed in this week's SEC Tournament and will face #7 seed Alabama with a lot at stake. Currently 33rd in the latest RPI rankings, the Tigers are squarely on the bubble for a regional bid and a win over the Crimson Tide would not only continue Auburn's week in Hoover but could also lock up a berth in next week's tournament. A loss would mean the Tigers put their fate in the hands of the selection committee.

Auburn enters the SEC Tournament as one of the league's hottest teams. Since starting out conference play 1-8, the Tigers have won 12 league games. Only Vanderbilt, LSU and Mississippi State have won more conference games during that span.

Getting a win won't be easy as Alabama enters the game with a little momentum as well despite losing two of three at Vanderbilt over the weekend. The Crimson Tide has won nine of its last 15 games overall including wins over top three teams LSU and Vanderbilt during that stretch.

The biggest change has come offensively for the Crimson Tide. Struggling to score runs early. Alabama has scored 60 runs in its last eight games including 22 in three games against the Commodores in Nashville. Prior to that the most runs Vanderbilt had allowed in a series was 15 to Long Beach State.

Alabama will send Justin Kamplain to the mound against the Tigers on Tuesday. Making just his sixth start of the season, the sophomore left-hander is 1-0 with a 4.53 ERA this season in 20 appearances. He pitched 1/3 of an inning against Auburn this season, allowing one hit. His lone win came against Texas A&M when he allowed two earned runs on five hits in seven and one/third innings.

The first pitch for Tuesday's game will come 40 minutes after the conclusion of the day's first game between #6 seed Ole Miss and #11 seed Kentucky and can be seen on FoxSportsNet South.

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Auburn is expected to have the services of first baseman Garrett Cooper on Tuesday after he was hit in the head on a stolen base attempt on Saturday. That would be a huge boost for the Tigers as Cooper leads the team with a .355 average and is tied for the team lead in home runs with seven.

Also back is third baseman Damek Tomscha after sitting with a strained groin, but it's doubtful he'll be in the lineup after the performance of senior Mitchell Self over the weekend. Self had just 26 at-bats all season, but went 5-9 against Arkansas and added several nice defensive plays at third base.

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