Tigers End Frustrating Year On Diamond

Auburn senior Kevin Patterson, junior Derek Varnadore, and Coach John Pawlowski discuss the season.

Hoover, Ala.--It wasn't the ending that anybody associated with Auburn baseball wanted or expected for the 2011 season. After winning the SEC West last year and hosting a regional at Plainsman Park, the Tigers were looking to continue to build in the third season under John Pawlowski. Instead Auburn limped into the SEC Tournament in Hoover and lost two games to end the season 29-29.

Despite playing one of the nation's toughest schedules that included four games against the nation's number one team South Carolina, series against Vanderbilt and Arizona State, and another game against Virginia, it wound up being the winnable games that the Tigers let slip away that proved to be the biggest reason why there won't be a regional this season.

"Anytime your season ends it's tough to accept," Pawlowski said. "We certainly put ourselves in this position. The rules are what they are. We have to continue to build depth on this team and continue to move forward. A lot of midweek games came back to haunt us. I thought on the weekend we competed with the very best in the country. Unfortunately this team wasn't deep enough to compete in the midweek. Anytime the season ends it's disappointing."

While it has been a frustrating year for the Tigers this senior class leaves as a group that has helped get the program back on solid footing. Making its second consecutive appearance in Hoover for the SEC Tournament after a six-year absence, a class featuring Kevin Patterson, Tony Caldwell, Wes Gilmer, Justin Hargett, Justin Fradejas, Bradley Hendrix and Sean Ray has done a lot for Auburn in their time on the Plains.

"Those guys are pretty special," Pawlowski said. "When I got here three years ago they jumped right in and were committed to what we wanted to do and the direction we wanted to go. I'm proud of those guys. They had an opportunity to go to a regional. They had an opportunity to go to back-to-back SEC Tournaments. They've meant a tremendous amount to our program and to me personally."

For Patterson it was an especially difficult year. After coming back to show he could play first base defensively the big senior had a solid season, but finished things off in a way he would just as soon forget with an 0-4 day. Voted a team captain for three seasons, Patterson said he'll remember this team as one that could have been great.

"It's definitely disappointing," Patterson said. "We finished at 29-29. Looking back on the season we had a lot of opportunities to pick up games. We blew some leads. We didn't get guys in when we needed to. Throughout the season we struggled with mid-week games. It catches up to you and that's exactly what happened to us. It's disappointing for me personally and for the squad. I thought we had a good team. It didn't end at all the way I wanted it to end. I thought we had a good squad that could go to a regional and super regional, but it didn't work out. It's disappointing."

Now Auburn will turn its attention to 2012 and see what the future holds for season four under Pawlowski. Having to replace the catcher, first baseman, second baseman, third baseman and right fielder off this year's team, the Tigers have some building to do. With juniors such as Casey McElroy, Derek Varnadore and Dan Gamache all players that could be drafted later this summer, there could be even more holes before the Tigers get back on the field for fall practice.

While there will definitely be some offensive holes to fill, the most important player for the Tigers just may be Varnadore. Showing his ability this season and finishing with six wins on the mound, he's physically the type of pitcher Auburn has been looking for since the days of Hal Baird. There's a long time between now and August, but right now Varnadore said he's got no question where he'll be next season.

"Next year my plans are to be right here," Varnadore said. "I want to come right back here."

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