The Tigers will have to wait for Monday’s NCAA Tournament selection announcement to find out. As of the Tigers’ 5-3 loss to South Carolina in Thursday’s late elimination game, it’s out of their control.
“I really don’t know,” Auburn coach John Pawlowski said. “I think our team has competed well. There’s been no quit in this team, and they’ve battled hard.
“I really don’t know what transpired today or what will hold true. I know we’ve got a good club.”
But is the Tigers’ resume good enough?
They qualified for the expanded SEC tourney with the 10th and final seed. They came into the tournament at No. 56 in the WarrenNolan.com (unofficial) RPI, which made them the 10th-highest-ranked SEC team.
As of Thursday night, they had dropped to No. 59 with the No. 29-ranked schedule.
They went 1-2, with losses to Florida and South Carolina and a victory over fellow bubble team Georgia. Auburn is 31-28, barely over the eligibility requirement of one game over .500.
If Auburn misses the NCAA Tournament, it will for the second consecutive year. The Tigers finished 2011 with a 29-29 record.
As for this season, “We’ve definitely had our ups and downs,” said Justin Bryant, who went 2-for-4 with an RBI on Thursday and made his second relief appearance in 24 hours. “It’s been a good ride, and I’m hoping we get a bid.”
The Tigers had their chances to make an even better case Thursday against South Carolina (40-16) but fell behind 5-0 to Gamecocks starter Michael Roth (6-1), who held them scoreless through four innings.
Roth worked 6 1/3 innings, allowing seven hits and one earned run with five strikeouts before giving way to Matt Price, who picked up his 10th save.
Still, Auburn made it interesting with runs in the fifth, sixth and eighth innings, and the Tigers had other opportunities. Their best came with runners on second and third base and one out for pinch hitter Cullen Wacker in the seventh, but he struck out.
Saks product Caleb Bowen, making his second start and third appearance of the tournament at catcher, followed with a groundout.
“We had hoped we could get a situation for Cullen Wacker, one of our best guys on the bench, and the situation was there,” Pawlowski said. “The situation just didn’t work out for us.”
Auburn left five runners on base, and four pitchers helped to strand 10 South Carolina base runners and keep the game close. Starter Cory Luckie (2-2) took the loss, allowing two runs (both earned) in two innings, and reliever Slade Smith got roughed up for three earned runs in 2 2/3.
Derek Varnadore and Bryant pitched 4 1/3 scoreless innings while Auburn rallied.
“We knew it was going to be a difficult game against Auburn, a team that has great offense and steals a bunch of bases,” South Carolina coach Ray Tanner said. “I anticipated that, whatever happened in the beginning, we were going to have our hands full with Varnadore and Bryant and Slade Smith coming into the game.
“They gave Auburn a chance to come back and score some runs, but we scored some runs early and did a good job, offensively, getting on the board.”
Joey Pankake began to stack the lead against Auburn, reaching on a first-inning double, advancing to third base on Evan Marzilli’s sacrifice and scoring on Christian Walker’s popout.
The Gamecocks added a run in the second when Adam Matthews singled, took second on a wild pitch and scored on Erik Payne’s double.
South Carolina added two in the fourth in Matthews’ RBI single and a bases-loaded walk to Pankake, and one in the fifth on Matthews’ run-scoring single.
Dan Glevenyak’s sacrifice fly got Auburn the board in the bottom of the fifth after Bryant singled and took third on a Patrick Savage double.
Bowen crossed home plate on Creede Simpson’s sacrifice fly in the sixth after reaching on an error, and Bryant’s run-scoring single plated Ryan Tella in the eighth.
The Tigers went down without a base runner in the ninth.
“I’m real proud of how our team competed today,” Pawlowski said. “I thought they battled all three games of this tournament, and today was another battle for us.
“Roth threw the ball extremely well for them and didn’t give us very many opportunities, and he did a great job, but I can’t say enough about our whole team.”
The question becomes, did Auburn say enough to convince the NCAA Selection Committee?
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576. Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.