Alabama (33-24) played itself into more NCAA tournament certainty than has Auburn (33-23).
The Crimson Tide broke a 3-3 tie with three runs in the bottom of the eighth inning and beat Auburn before a crowd announced at 7,421 to advance into the double-elimination portion of the tournament. Seventh-seeded Alabama will play No. 2 seed LSU on Wednesday at 1 p.m. at the Hoover Met.
“Personally, I feel like we’ve done enough to get in (the NCAA tournament),” Alabama coach Mitch Gaspard said. “At the same time, you don’t want to leave anything to chance.”
Auburn (33-23), the No. 10 seed, hopes for an at-large NCAA tournament bid but must wait six days for Monday’s announcement of the NCAA field.
“Everyone’s disappointed, but I certainly hope we continue to play,” Auburn coach John Pawlowski said.
Alabama entered the SEC tourney at No. 28 in the Boyd’s World pseudo RPI, and Auburn was No. 32. Both teams finished the regular season with losing SEC records, Alabama at 14-15 and Auburn 13-17.
Tuesday’s clash of in-state rivals was seen as potential play-in game for the NCAA field, let alone the traditional double-elimination portion of the SEC tourney.
Alabama won on the strength of reliever Jay Shaw’s five scoreless innings after Auburn took a 3-1 lead through the third inning against starter Justin Kamplain.
Shaw allowed four hits with one walk and one strikeout in what Gaspard called his longest outing in two years.
“He’s been pitching well,” Gaspard said. “He’s given up one run in his last 15 innings.
“He’s been more of a two-inning type of guy for us. Once he got through two innings, I was a little concerned. He stayed at it. He found a way to get to that eighth inning.”
Alabama closer Ray Castillo worked a perfect ninth inning for his 11th save of the season.
Auburn reliever Reid Carter (1-2) was responsible for the go-ahead run, but most of Alabama’s eighth-inning action came against closer Terrance Dedrick.
Pawlowski went to Dedrick after Alabama’s Austin Smith led off with an infield single, but Brett Booth’s hit-and-run double to right field and an intentional walk to Andrew Miller loaded the bases.
Booth’s double “really opened the door for them to win,” Pawlowski said.
Chance Vincent then hit a ball up the middle, and Auburn second baseman Jordan Ebert made a sliding attempt to stop it. The ball came out of Ebert’s glove, and Smith scored the go-ahead run.
“I knew I had to get the job done,” Vincent said. “At my last at bat, I knew I had to get something done.”
Kenny Roberts delivered a sacrifice fly to score another run, and the third run of the inning scored on Dedrick’s wild pitch.
Smith’s run-scoring double in the sixth inning tied the game, and Booth hit a run-scoring single in the fourth.
Auburn put up a three-run third inning to take the lead. Walks to Cullen Wacker and Garrett Cooper set up Patrick Savage’s run-scoring single, Dan Glevenyak’s sacrifice fly to score Cooper and Ebert’s single to plate Savage.
The Tigers had other chances, getting at least two runners on in each of the first three innings, a lead-off single from Damek Tomscha in the fourth and another from Cooper in the fifth.
Alexandria product Hunter Kelley, Auburn’s starting right fielder and lead-off hitter, singled with one out in the seventh and advanced to second on Wacker’s single, but Alabama turned a spectacular double play to end the threat. Shortstop Mike White made a diving stop and glove flip to second baseman Kyle Overstreet, who made the force and throw to first.
“I had guys making plays behind me,” said Shaw, who improved to 2-1. “It’s easy to pitch when you’ve got guys who are making these kinds of plays.”
Alabama took a 1-0 lead on Ben Moore’s grounder to plate Roberts in the first inning. Moore, a sophomore from Cullman playing in his first SEC tourney, went 2-for-4 with two runs and an RBI.
“The first SEC tournament is a dream for me,” he said. “It’s something I’ve been looking forward to my whole life.
“This is a great team win. Our back isn’t against the wall. We’re in the tournament.”
Gaspard said he likely will get into his normal rotation now that Alabama has advanced, meaning right-hander Charley Sullivan against LSU and righty Spencer Turnbill next.
Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, email@example.com. On Twitter @jmedley_star.