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Monday, March 14, 2011

The War Eagle Extra is moving

Big news today for the site: the War Eagle Extra is moving.

Because all of you readers have frequented the War Eagle Extra so often, the Ledger-Enquirer has decided to move the blog to a place where we have full control of the site.

The good news: The new site will look almost exactly the same. In fact, it's practically a mirror image, although we may tinker with design and formatting in the upcoming months. (Suggestions are welcome. Post in the comments section.) Here's the address -- http://www.wareagleextra.com -- so be sure to change your bookmarks. This page will still exist, although it will redirect you to our new page.

(Bonus good news that I forgot to mention: the new site will be more mobile friendly for those of you who check it on your phones. Hopefully this goes off without a hitch, too.)

The bad news: I do believe any Blogspot log-in information for commenting purposes will not carry over to the new site. You'll still be able to comment by entering a username and e-mail address (realtalk: it doesn't have to be authentic), so don't let the new system discourage you.

We're doing this for a couple of reasons. First, the Wordpress site gives us complete control of the blog. Second, it'll be easier to monetize through the eventual sale of ads. You might hear "ads" and "monetize" and be put off, but the newspaper biz ain't pretty right now economically, so every little bit helps. In fact, we're probably long overdue for this anyway. Any future ads, I'm told, will be unobtrusive (read: no pop-ups).

So thank you for frequenting the blog enough that we can even consider making this switch. And be sure to change your bookmarks so you don't miss out on any Auburn coverage. We'll be making the official switch around 5 p.m. ET today.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Long-awaited big inning helps Auburn avoid weekend sweep against Arizona State

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn was on the cusp of a big inning all weekend, but because of rotten luck, bad baserunning or poor situational hitting repeatedly failed to strike it big.

The No. 23 Tigers finally broke through in their last chance, scoring four runs in the eighth inning Sunday to rally for a 10-8 win against No. 7 Arizona State and avoid a three-game sweep at Plainsman Park.

“It seemed like every potential big inning we had they just shut us down and we didn’t get the breaks,” Auburn shortstop Casey McElroy said. “It really felt nice to finally have that one inning where we got a couple breaks and the balls fell in.”

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Auburn (11-5) got a monkey off its back in its biggest non-conference test of the season. The Tigers had lost five straight to the Sun Devils in the last two years, despite leading in every game.

“I think it was a real important team win,” Auburn coach John Pawlowski said. “It was just what the doctor ordered today.”

Arizona State (11-3) used a four-run seventh to take an 8-6 lead, chasing Auburn starter Derek Varnadore, who gave up six runs on five hits in six-plus innings.

But The Tigers rallied in the eighth. Jay Gonzalez and Justin Fradejas drew walks to put runners on first and second with two outs for McElroy, who helped kill a potential rally an inning earlier by getting caught in a rundown between third and home.

ASU lefty Mitchell Lambson (3-2) tried to get a fastball past him on the first pitch, but McElroy lined it into the left field corner, just inside the foul line. Gonzalez and Fradejas scored to tie the game at 8.

Dan Gamache batted next, lofting a high fly ball to left that the wind carried to the base of the wall. ASU left fielder Matt Newman jumped and appeared to catch it at the base of the fence, but he lost control of it as he fell to the ground.

McElroy came around to score as the umpires furiously signaled that the play was still alive.

“I thought he caught it,” said Gamache, who was 7-for-14 with 9 RBIs in the series. “I thought it got blown up a little bit and was an easy fly ball, but the wind took it and I got lucky.”

Wes Gilmer added an RBI single to make it 10-8 Auburn. It was the first time the Tigers scored more than two runs in an inning all weekend.

“The first two games we just kind of came up empty-handed, but we were right there until the end,” said McElroy, who was 3-for-5 with three RBIs. “And this game we knew it was going to be another dogfight and this one we just kept believing and coach kept using the word magic.”

Zach Blatt (1-1), who entered the day with an 8.31 ERA in three appearances, pitched two perfect innings to close out the game, a much-needed boost both personally and for a bullpen that struggled to hold leads all weekend.

Auburn returns to action Tuesday in a non-conference game against Alabama in the Capital City Classic at Riverwalk Stadium in Montgomery. First pitch is 8 p.m. ET.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Hard-hitting Arizona State tops Auburn 9-5

AUBURN, Ala. — The hits keep coming and coming for Arizona State, with no end in sight.

After a 16-hit effort in Friday’s opener, No. 7 Arizona State pounded out 17 hits Saturday in a 9-5 win against No. 23 Auburn at Plainsman Park.

Matt Newman hit two home runs and had four RBIs and Joey DeMichele was 5-for-5 with three doubles and four runs for the Sun Devils (11-2), who have won five straight against the Tigers (10-5) dating back to last year.

“It always seemed like we were pitching with somebody on base,” Auburn coach John Pawlowski said. “So it puts a lot of pressure on your team, puts pressure on the defense, and they’re a quality team and they’re going to find ways to score runs. And they did today.”

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Arizona State took command of a back-and-forth game in the late innings. Deven Marrero hit a sacrifice fly off reliever Andrew Morris (1-1) to break a 5-5 tie in the seventh. Newman followed with an RBI double to make it 7-5.

The Sun Devils tacked on two more in the ninth. Newman, who had one extra-base hit all year, hit his third of the day when he launched a Dillon Ortman offering into the right field bullpen. Xorge Carrillo added an RBI single to push the lead to four.

ASU’s six through nine hitters went 12-for-19 on the afternoon with two homers, six doubles and eight RBIs.

Auburn had a glut of wasted chances. After scoring four runs in the first three innings, it scored only one more time the rest of the game.

Zach Alvord ran through a stop sign at third in the second inning, getting thrown out by a considerable distance at the plate. An inning later, Cullen Wacker whiffed on a squeeze bunt, leaving Wes Gilmer hung out to dry between third and home.

The Tigers twice loaded the bases with one out or less but only managed to score one run in those two innings. They left nine runners on base overall.

“We’ve got to keep talking to them about approach and try to find a way offensively to try to get guys on base and manufacture some runs,” Pawlowski said.

With the conference opener looming next weekend, Pawlowski said he’ll have to re-evaluate the pitching rotation.

Starter Slade Smith lasted only 3 1/3 innings, allowing three runs on seven hits. The right-hander has gotten through the fifth inning only once in four starts this year and has an 8.00 ERA.

“We said that we’ve got to get our guys ready to go,” Pawlowski said. “We may have to make some adjustments.”

The teams conclude the series Sunday at 2 p.m. ET. Derek Varnadore (3-0, 1.17 ERA) takes the mound for Auburn against Arizona State’s Kramer Champlin (2-0, 2.50).

“Our mindset is it’s a one-game championship tomorrow,” Pawlowski said. “We’ve got to come ready to play. And to our program, to our kids in there, even though it’s non-conference, they are competitive and they want to win.”

Friday, March 11, 2011

Ninth-inning rally lifts No. 7 Arizona State to 8-7 win over No. 23 Auburn in weekend opener

AUBURN, Ala. — Just like last year, Auburn couldn't hold a lead against Arizona State.

The No. 7 Sun Devils rallied from three deficits Friday night for an 8-7 win against the No. 23 Tigers at Plainsman Park to start a three-game series.

Arizona State (10-2) scored twice in the ninth for the win, tying the game on an Xorge Carrillo single and going ahead on a single by Zack MacPhee that took a fortuitous bounce into right field.

"It's real disappointing," Auburn coach John Pawlowski said. "We knew they weren't going away. That's a solid ballclub over there and they play to a high level. We had our chances. It just didn't work out."

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Auburn (10-4) was swept by Arizona State in Tempe, Ariz., last season, despite leading in every game.

The Tigers looked like they would break that streak, taking a 7-6 lead in the eighth after an errant throw on Justin Fradejas' infield single allowed pinch runner Bobby Andrews to score.

But Arizona State (10-2) rallied. Reliever Ethan Wallen walked Austin Barnes to start the ninth. After a bunt moved him to second, Carrillo's RBI single up the middle scored him to tie the game at 7.

Andy Workman batted next and hit a sharp grounder up the middle that got past the pitcher's mound and struck umpire Jay Pierce on the foot. The ball ricocheted to second baseman Justin Hargett, who was ready to fire to first when Pierce ruled the play dead, putting runners and first and second.

Pawlowski argued the call saying the play should have been live, although the umpires were backed up by the rulebook, which says a fair ball that hits an umpire before it passes an infielder other than the pitcher is dead and runners advance one base.

"Sometimes those things happen," Pawlowski said. "It's unfortunate the ball hitting the umpire. That's part of baseball."

After an ASU runner was thrown out at the plate trying to score on a grounder to short, MacPhee hit a grounder into hole between first and second that took a bad hop over Hargett's head and into right field, allowing Workman to score with the winning run.

Wallen (0-1) took the loss, giving up two runs in 2 2/3 innings of relief. Auburn starter Cory Luckie struck out eight, one shy of a career-high, giving up three runs on nine hits in 4 2/3

Arizona State reliever Mitchell Lambson (3-1) earned the win after giving up one run in 2 1/3 innings.

Dan Gamache went 3-for-4 for the Tigers, driving in Auburn's first four runs with a double and triple. Kevin Patterson added a two-run homer in the sixth, his second of the year.

Johnny Ruettiger
was 2-for-5 for ASU with three RBIs and Barnes was 3-for-4.

The Tigers and Sun Devils play again today at 4 p.m. ET. Auburn will start Slade Smith (1-0, 7.98 ERA) against Kyle Ottoson (2-0, 3.46).

Four Auburn football players dismissed from team after arrest for robbery, burglary, theft of property

AUBURN, Ala. — Four Auburn football players — Mike McNeil, Antonio Goodwin, Shaun Kitchens and Dakota Mosley — have been kicked off the team after being arrested early Friday morning on charges of robbery, burglary and theft of property.

The four are currently being held at Lee County Detention Center, each on a $511,000 bond, according to the Auburn Police Department.

(UPDATE: According to the Opelika-Auburn News, Mosley had posted bond.)

They were charged with five counts of robbery in the first degree and one count of burglary in the first degree, Class A felonies under Alabama state law, and one count of theft of property in the third degree, a Class A misdemeanor.

A first-degree burglary conviction in Alabama is punishable by 10 years to life in prison and a $60,000 fine.

Auburn head coach Gene Chizik released a statement saying the four have been "permanently dismissed from the team."

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McNeil, 22, who is from Mobile, Ala., started at safety last season as a junior. He made 56 tackles, including a team-high 14 in Auburn's BCS title game victory against Oregon.

Goodwin, 20, and Kitchens, 19, wide receivers from Atlanta and College Park, Ga., respectively, played mostly on special teams as freshmen. Mosley, 19, a tight end from Little Rock, Ark., redshirted.

According to the Auburn police, officers responded to a robbery report at a residence located on the 2300 block of Wire Road at 12:25 a.m. The five victims present told police three black males entered the residence, with one displaying a hand gun.

Personal property was stolen, although it was not specified. No injuries were reported.

A patrolman responded to the area and observed what he believed to be the suspects' vehicle based on the description he was given. Officers stopped the car and found a pistol and the stolen property before transporting the four to the Lee County Detention Center.

Chizik offered the following statement: “The players arrested in connection with this deeply troubling incident have been permanently dismissed from our football team. While we realize the legal process will run its course and these young men have a right for their case to be heard, playing for Auburn University is an honor and a privilege. It is not a right.

“We hold our student-athletes to a high standard of conduct on and off the field as representatives of Auburn University, and this kind of behavior is not tolerated.

“I am extremely disappointed and embarrassed by the actions of these individuals. I want to personally apologize to all of those who were impacted by this senseless act, including the victims, Auburn University and the Auburn family.”

Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs stood behind Chizik's actions.

"This type of behavior will not be tolerated at Auburn," he said. "I fully support coach Chizik’s swift and decisive action to dismiss these four student-athletes from our football team effective immediately.”

Teammates expressed shock about the players' arrest. Former left tackle Lee Ziemba called the incident "unfortunate" and "embarrassing" during an appearance on Paul Finebaum's radio show. Former safety Zac Etheridge tweeted: "Prayers going up for those guys. Not like them to do that!!!"

It's the second time in the last month Auburn has dismissed a player because of legal issues. Running back Eric Smith was kicked off the team Feb. 28 after being arrested for third-degree domestic violence. It occurred a year and a half after he was arrested for third-degree assault for knocking a fellow student unconscious at an area hotel.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Commentary: Despite disappointing season, Barbee offers Auburn basketball hope

My colleague, Seth Emerson, had game story duties today at the SEC tournament. You can read his account here. I wrote a column on the conclusion of Auburn's season instead. Here it is:

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ATLANTA — There was no comeback, no second-half magic, no late-game rally for the Auburn Tigers on Thursday.

Tony Barbee's first season on the Plains came to a predictable conclusion in a 69-51 SEC tournament loss to Georgia, a much bigger, much better team from top to bottom.

But he didn't dwell on it.

"Can't look back," Barbee said, echoing a season-long sentiment. "We've got to look ahead."

Looking back at the wreckage won't help. The Tigers (11-20) finished with their fewest wins since the 1993-94 season, placing fifth in the SEC West, the fifth time in the last seven years they've been one of the bottom two teams in the division.

But here's where things differ from the Jeff Lebo era. There's hope.

It's a word rarely spoken in Auburn basketball circles. Lebo's teams never made the NCAA tournament, coming close only once while treading water until the life raft of a new arena could push the program to the next level.

Barbee's different. In 20 years as a player or coach, he's missed the postseason only twice. He's been schooled by a noted winner, John Calipari. And in his only previous head coaching gig, he took UTEP from 10th to first place in the Conference USA in four short years.

Why would that pattern change now?

Sure, the numbers are bad this season — historically bad, in fact, if you're talking RPI — but look at what Barbee inherited. The team had no seniors. Its best player missed the season with a knee injury. Its top two recruits failed to qualify academically. Going 0-for-the-SEC was in play.

Still, the Tigers never folded. They scrapped their way to four SEC wins (I'm guessing the over paid off on that one), had a competitive surge late in the season during which no deficit was too large and gave their fan base reason to believe better days are ahead.

"They stayed together as teammates and didn't point, didn't blame," Barbee said. "They knew they had a lot of growing to do because of the inexperience. And I talked about the growing pains from Day 1. And you see how we progressed as a team and got gradually better over the course of the season. And that's what we want to try to do every year."

It won't be an instant fix. Auburn needs size and scoring. The Tigers got mauled on the boards Thursday, allowing 18 offensive rebounds. Their signature offensive play this season was the seven-minute scoring drought.

There's also the matter of making the scholarship numbers work, which will probably require some maneuvering Auburn fans like to think only takes place under Nick Saban's watch.

But it's not as though SEC reclamation projects take a long time. Mark Fox took Georgia from 5-11 in the SEC to the cusp of the NCAA tournament in Year 2. Anthony Grant had a similar turnaround at Alabama, turning a 5-11 SEC team into Western Division champs.

Why can't Auburn, which plays in one of the weakest divisions in Division I basketball and will add injured guard Frankie Sullivan, transfers Varez Ward and Noel Johnson and at least three freshman signees to its current group, make a similar jump?

Barbee refuses to sugarcoat the process — "He doesn’t shoot you no crap," forward Kenny Gabriel said. "He doesn’t tell you what you want to hear." — nor will he slow down to let the stragglers play catchup. Losing isn't in his DNA.

"They've got to commit to improving," Barbee said. "If not, they will get left behind."

Georgia ends Auburn's season with 69-51 win in first round of SEC tournament

ATLANTA — There was no second-half comeback to be had Thursday in the Georgia Dome, where Auburn's season ended with a 69-51 loss to Georgia.

Trey Thompkins had 22 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Bulldogs (21-10), who kept their NCAA tournament hopes alive, advancing to play Alabama tomorrow at 1 p.m. ET.

The Tigers (11-20) finished with their fewest wins since the 1993-94 season.

Georgia opened things up with an 18-4 run in the first half, taking a 34-23 lead into the break. The Bulldogs dominated the glass, grabbing 18 offensive rebounds.

Auburn, which made a habit of overcoming big deficits late in the season, found Thursday's 21-point hole too large to overcome.

Chris Denson, from Columbus, was one of the few bright spots for the Tigers, finishing with a career-high with 21 points off the bench. He went 9-for-10 from the field.

But he had little offensive help. Auburn shot 39 percent but was 2-for-14 from 3-point range.

Earnest Ross, who scored a career-high 30 earlier this year at Georgia, went 1-for-10 from the floor and scored only 4 points. Kenny Gabriel was the team's second-leading scorer with 7.

Halftime from Atlanta: Georgia 34, Auburn 23

ATLANTA — Auburn will need some second-half magic to keep its season going.

The Tigers trail Georgia 34-23 at halftime in the SEC tournament opener at the Georgia Dome.

The Bulldogs (20-10), who are playing to keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive, used an 18-4 run near the end of the first half. Georgia led by as many as 15.

Center Trey Thompkins has a game-high 14 points to go with 7 rebounds. UGA has a 24-14 rebounding advantage, with 13 offensive rebounds.

Reserve guard Chris Denson, from Columbus, leads Auburn (11-19) with 9 points.

The Tigers shot 39 percent in the first half (11-for-28) but were 0-for-7 from 3-point range.

The game's winner will play Alabama tomorrow at 1 p.m. ET.

Tigers aim to bring momentum into tournament

I'll be driving to Atlanta this morning for the SEC tournament, which will take place at the Georgia Dome. Auburn, the 5th seed out of the West, plays Georgia, the 4th seed out of the East, at 1 p.m. ET. Here's how today's story starts:
AUBURN, Ala. -- Auburn isn’t a quick-starting team, so it figures that it began playing its best basketball as the season wound down.

The Tigers (11-19, 4-12 SEC), who finished the regular season with their first back-to-back wins in league play, hope to carry that late-season momentum into the SEC tournament, which starts today at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

“There’s no question this team has gotten progressively better over the course of the season,” first-year Auburn coach Tony Barbee said. “And right now, we’re playing at our peak.”
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Here's the full schedule today and tomorrow:

  • Game 1: West No. 5 Auburn vs. East No. 4 Georgia, Game, 1 p.m. ET (SEC Network)
  • Game 2: East No. 6 South Carolina vs. West No. 3 Ole Miss, 3:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network)
  • Game 3: East No. 5 Tennessee vs. West No. 4 Arkansas, 7:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network)
  • Game 4: West No. 6 LSU vs. East No. 3 Vanderbilt, 10 p.m. ET (SEC Network)
  • Game 5: Game 1 winner vs. West No. 1 Alabama, 1 p.m. ET (SEC Network)
  • Game 6: Game 2 winner vs. East No. 2 Kentucky, 3:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network)
  • Game 7: Game 3 winner vs. East No. 1 Florida, 7:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network)
  • Game 8: Game 4 winner vs. West No. 2 Mississippi State, 10 p.m .ET (SEC Network)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Auburn-Memphis baseball game canceled

Auburn's baseball game tonight against Memphis was canceled because of weather. The teams will not make the game up.

Fans holding tickets to Wednesday’s game can exchange them for any other non-conference game, subject to availability.

The No. 23 Tigers (10-3) begin a three-game series against No. 7 Arizona State on Friday at 7 p.m. ET at Plainsman Park.