Struggling To Stay Healthy To Survive SEC Tests

Phillip Marshall writes about the challenges the baseball Tigers are facing as well as Auburn and SEC football.

Auburn's baseball team lost a series it surely expected to win, but Sunday's dramatic 6-5 victory over Mississippi State might have been the biggest of the season.

Had they lost, the Tigers would have been 8-10 in the Southeastern Conference and in ninth place. Instead, they are 9-9 and in a three-way tie for sixth. That might not seem like much, but it is. If they can play .500 in their final four series, they will almost certainly be in the SEC Tournament and an NCAA regional.

If that happens, coach Steve Renfroe and his players will deserve a great deal of credit.

Steve Renfroe

Consider what has happened to this team.

First baseman Karl Amonite, who would have perhaps been the SEC's top home run hitter, was lost to injury before the season started and has not swung a bat.

Third baseman Tyler Johnstone, perhaps the most promising of this season's newcomers and slated to start at third base, also was lost to injury before the season and hasn't played at all.

Ben Maitland, who was supposed to be in the mix at catcher, moved to third base. He has been battling a sprained ankle for three weeks.

Josh Sullivan, who took over at catcher, has battled a sprained neck. On top of that, he had to be sent home Friday night because he was ill.

Left fielder Sean Gamble has played most of the season on a painful leg that has reduced his speed and mobility.

Outfielder J.T. Williamson, swinging a hot bat and penciled into Sunday's starting lineup, was ill and unable to play.

Colby Paxton

Senior Colby Paxton, expected to be in the weekend pitching rotation, has mysteriously lost the velocity on his once-feared fastball and has not been a factor in SEC play.

Shortstop Chuck Jeroloman has played on for the last three weeks with a painful wrist.

For reasons known only to the baseball gods, Tug Hulett, Gamble and Josh Bell--the team's top returning hitters after Amonite went down--struggled at the plate early on.

Despite all that, the Tigers are the only team to win a series at Tennessee and the only team to win a series at Ole Miss. They won a series at Alabama for the first time since 1997.

The greatest frustration for players and coaches, of course, is that they have gone 0-for-3 in home series against Kentucky, LSU and Mississippi State. That needs to change, and with Hulett, Bell and Gamble seemingly finding their hitting strokes, should change.

The race for the SEC Tournament field remains wide open. Ten teams are in serious contention for the eight spots. Alabama and Kentucky aren't mathematically out of it, but the odds are long. If the Tide doesn't take two of three at LSU this weekend--and that's a long shot at best--its fate will be essentially sealed.

STEAL FOR CARDINALS

The Arizona Cardinals got a steal by getting linebacker Karlos Dansby in the second round. Dansby might not be the best Auburn linebacker I've covered, but he's in the top five.

Where "analysts" come up with some of the things they say I'll never understand. The most amazing was that Dansby "takes plays off." I watched him play for three seasons. I don't know of any player who played with more consistent intensity and effort.

Dontarrious Thomas (54) and Karlos Dansby (11) have been key players for the Auburn defense in recent seasons.

Dansby and fellow linebacker Dontarrious Thomas will make lots of money for a long time in the NFL. They are great athletes with great attitudes and great intelligence. That's a winning combination.

Same goes for defensive end Reggie Torbor, who went to the New York Giants in the fourth round. They plan on moving him to linebacker, which probably fits him better in the NFL.

UNFAIR CRITICISM

It seems to me that the criticism of Eli Manning and his father, Archie, hasn't really been fair.

Eli decided he didn't want to play for the San Diego Chargers, who had the first pick in the draft. He discreetly sent them that word. It was the Chargers who made that public, not Eli or his family.

But you have to give the Chargers credit. They made it pay. The drafted Eli anyway and got another hot quarterback in Philip Rivers, plus a load of draft choices.

Speaking of Rivers, I've known him since he was in high school and known his father since before he was born. He's a class act from a class family. You have to feel good when good things to happen to people like him.

Questions or comments for Phillip? Email him at pmarsh9485@msn.com.


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