A rivalry renewed: Baseball takes on No. 20 Auburn with postseason hopes on the line

Austin Hannon | @austin_hannon1, Sports Editor

Regardless of the sport, when the Alabama Crimson Tide and Auburn Tigers meet, it has the eyes of everyone in the state.

Fans from both sides look for bragging rights anywhere they can get them, and that includes on the baseball diamond.

Alabama (27-22, 10-14) suffered another series loss to the No. 17 LSU Tigers last weekend in Tuscaloosa, further putting its SEC and NCAA Tournament hopes on the edge. According to D1Baseball, the Crimson Tide was one of the “First Four Out” before its series loss to the Tigers. 

Now, Alabama is off that short list as well.

Earlier this week, the Crimson Tide recorded a season-high 18 hits in its 13-6 thrashing of the Jacksonville State Gamecocks. Now, Alabama looks southeast to its arch-rival, the No. 20 Auburn Tigers (33-16, 13-11).

“They’re a really well-rounded team,” Alabama head coach Brad Bohannon said. “I just think they’re really balanced and they’re very consistent.”

The Tigers sit safely in the NCAA Tournament field, but are looking to host a regional. Handling the Crimson Tide will go a long way in determining that.

Auburn is coming off back-to-back series losses to No. 1 Tennessee and No. 4 Arkansas. The series with Alabama is its final three-game set on the plains.

In the middle of the lineup is infielder Sonny DiChiara, who has been one of the most dangerous bats in the entire country. DiChiara has an unworldly OPS of 1.414 with 16 home runs and 45 RBIs. The senior from Hoover, Alabama, is hitting .412 with a slugging percentage of .838.

The Tigers don’t hit a ton of home runs, but the lineup finds a way to score runs night in, night out. Auburn has eight players that have more than 20 RBIs this season.

“They’re a really good team,” Alabama outfielder William Hamiter said. “They’ve got a lot of good hitters, and a lot of good pitchers. They’re ranked in the top-25 – they’ve been there for a while. We’ve got to be ready to play.”

Crimson Tide relief pitcher Brock Guffey also knows the threat of the Tigers’ offense.

“They are very competitive at the plate,” Guffey said. “They’re going to give you great at-bats. They’re not going to back down. So we’re going to have to bring it and limit the mistakes.”

Anytime the Crimson Tide and Tigers get together, it means something – including for the players on both sides that reside in the state.

“A lot of the kids on each team were recruited by both schools,” Bohannon said. “There’s a lot at stake here. They’re playing for a lot, and we’re scratching and clawing to extend our season. It’ll be a big series and I know it will be a great atmosphere.”

For Hamiter and Guffey, this series is always one that is marked on the calendar.

“I grew up an Alabama fan watching football, basketball and baseball,” Hamiter said. “The rivalry means a lot to me. The series last year was a lot of fun. So, obviously that will have some implications with all those being one-run games at our place. Now we’re going to their place, so it’ll be fun and we’re looking forward to it.”

“This rivalry is super special to me,” Guffey said. “Growing up in Alabama, it’s all I’ve ever seen. It’s like the biggest thing of the year, especially when it comes to football. But for baseball, it’s no different. The crowds in there don’t care what sport it is. It’s Alabama versus Auburn, and it’s going to be a very special weekend. Hopefully, we can come out on top.”

In order for the Crimson Tide to make the postseason, it must begin this weekend in Auburn. Alabama cannot stomach another series loss or sweep.

“We’ve got to win, plain and simple,” Hamiter said. “We’ve got to give it all we got. We’ve got to be able to play our best ball, and come out of there with a win. Because that seems to be our best option for getting in the postseason. We’ve got to make it happen.”

Game 1 from Plainsman Park in Auburn is set for Friday, May 13 at 7:30 p.m. CT on the SEC Network.