Close. But not that close. Auburn might almost feel "good" about their NCAA Regional chances if they'd pulled together a sweep of Alabama at Plainsman Park over the weekend, and as you probably know by now, they got themselves 2/3rds of the way there after Sean Ray stonewalled the Tide for 5 1/3 innings and Auburn took a 3-1 win.
Unfortunately, home field or no home field, desperation or no desperation, a clean sweep of a superior team--and Alabama has proven themselves the superior team over the course of the season, Auburn's impressive 3-0 record against the Tide heading into the series finale notwithstanding--is a hard, hard row to hoe. And so Alabama took game 3 13-3. So it goes.
And for the second time in three months, Auburn fans get to sit around for a few days and desperately hope that a mysterious, sequestered band of NCAA officials give us a thumbs-up and sneak our Tigers into their 64-team field. Unlike in hoops, though, I don't have any idea how to project whether that's going to happen. Fortunately, people like Plainsman Parking Lot do. His take: "If Auburn is going to get in, it will be just barely." On the downside: there's some less-than-optimistic takes from a Rivals analyst and some other projection sites. On the upside: Auburn's computer numbers hold up pretty well to the rest of the bubble and there's definitely a precedent for SEC teams that missed out on the SEC tourney to get in.
Of course, one major problem is that there's still an entire week of conference baseball tourneys to be played and automatic bids to be handed out ... so, as in basketball, what we think of as the bubble today is not going to be the bubble when the field is announced a week from today. If I had to take a guess I would say: it's not happening. I mean, if Pawlowski himself isn't confident enough to say more than this, when asked if Auburn will keep practicing:
"There's nothing we can do. You can sit there and watch the scores come in and watch what happens, but we're going to keep moving forward and see what happens," he said. "I'm going to meet with the players and then we'll decide what we're going to do."I can't see why I should be all that confident. I'm assuming the season's over.
But hey, maybe we'll be surprised. And you can't say Auburn didn't give it a hell of a shot there at the end--as disappointing as missing out on Hoover might be, we'll always have 3-1 against the Tide, right? Right? (I know that's not enough, but if there's no NCAA berth, that'll kind of be all we've got.)
Softball. Auburn softball's been going to NCAA Regionals for years, but they'd never won their opening game--until last Friday, when Anna Thompson blanked Iowa 1-0 in a mild 3-seed-over-the-2 upset. The path for Auburn to a super-regional had never been clearer: upset host Georgia Tech in the next round or beat whichever of Iowa or fourth-seeded Boston staved off elimination in the other second-round game, and Auburn's into the championship round. Anything could happen.
Of course, the downside of "anything can happen" is that sometimes the thing that happens is that Tech shrugs off a slow start to win without too much trouble, and then Boston--your America East conference representative, ladies and gents--goes off on Thompson for three runs in the first and ends Auburn's season 5-0. Whoops.
Overall there wasn't much new to Auburn's softball season that I could see--middle-of-the-pack SEC finish, three-games-and-out NCAA appearance, it's all been done before. But War Eagle, always, to the team's two departing seniors and maybe with as much returning as coach Tina Deese will have, things'll be better next year.