A Razorback baseball team suddenly flourishing with confidence both at the plate and on the mound will get a chance to take another step up in the SEC standings this weekend.
Arkansas (27-16, 9-9) will host Auburn (23-19, 7-11) at Baum Stadum Friday night at 6:35 p.m in the opener of a three-game set between the two schools.
The Razorbacks are 7-3 in their last 10 games while the Tigers are 4-6 in that same span, but Arkansas had coach Dave Van Horn says that stat is somewhat misleading for the visitors.
"I told the team we are facing a team that like every SEC team, they are a dangerous team," Van Horn said. "Don't get caught up in everything you see as far as standings. It is a good SEC team that lost two tight games to South Carolina last week after winning game one, 4-2. They could have easily swept them.
"They can hit and they've got good pitching," Van Horn added. "They are good. They are like every team in the league. They are a pitch away or a play away from winning three or four more games and you had better just play the game. That was my message to the team."
The Razorbacks announced Friday morning that the two teams will play a doubleheader Saturday at 4:05 p.m. because of expected inclement weather on Sunday.
Arkansas is coming off a mid-week sweep of Northwestern State (8-1 and 15-3) after taking two out of three from No. 8 Vanderbilt.
Razorback second baseman Brian Anderson (.313, 4 Hrs, 39 RBIs), who has hit in 18 of his last 19 games and 37 of 43 this season, respects Auburn head coach Sunny Galloway.
"They have a talented squad." Anderson said. "I was recruited by Sunny Golloway, their head coach. He definitely know what he's doing over there. They have some older guys that are coming back. They're definitely not a team you want to overlook. In the SEC, it's always so close. You try and overlook somebody, the next thing you know, you're a few games back, even further than what you were. We're definitely not going to overlook them. They're a good SEC squad, so we're going to have to bring out best on Friday."
Arkansas will send out normal Friday starter Trey Killian (2-6, 2.63) to face a fellow right hander in Auburn's Dillon Ortman in the series opener.
He'll be followed to the mound by Jalen Beeks (5-3, 1.49) and Chris Oliver (5-3, 2.29) – a trio who just taken the ball, headed to the mound and have not let go of their starting spots this season.
"We didn't know who the starters were going to be going into the season," Van Horn said. "We didn't know if Beeks would end up being our closer. It kind of depended on a few things and we were giving everybody starts. Chris is the same way. We didn't know his role exactly – is he going to be a closer, a middle guy or a starter? I think that he wanted to start and he really just didn't give it up. I thought those pitchers kind of made it easy on us coaches to make those decisions.
"It wasn't like we were struggling over it, they just kept doing the job and we kept putting them out there," Van Horn added. "They gave us a chance to win every time out it seemed like. It has worked so far."
Closer Michael Gunn has also taken that job and run with it.
"More than anything he has thrown a lot of strikes," Van Horn said. "Last year it seemed like he would get behind in the count and have to throw a lot of pitches. His stuff is good enough. He has got a big-time breaking ball that is kind of a 12-6 hard breaker, kind of a downer. He has got a good change up and he spots his fast ball well. He throws it in on righthanders well and he can throw it away. To me he just pitches with confidence."
The Razorbacks have hit 10 homers in their last 11 games after hitting only nine in the first 32 contests.
"I think our guys are just getting in the rhythm of the season," Anderson said. "We've seen a lot more pitches now and it's warmer out. The wind starts blowing. Really just not play as many games at home, as crazy as that sounds. It's not much of a hitter's ballpark here at Baum … I'd say it's just warmer weather, guys seeing more pitches. We're more confident and more comfortable at the plate probably."
Eric Fisher has hit five in his last nine games to head up the power surge while redshirt freshman Blake Baxendale is hitting .444 with runners in scoing position lately.
"It's unbelievable," Anderson said. " Any time you see a guy that is just at the plate just calm, relaxed, the ball looks huge to him. You can tell. It looks like a beach ball coming in. It's nice having a guy on the team that you know at any time he can hit on out. At any park at any time. That's what we have with Eric.
"He can drive the ball to both sides of the field and he's hitting off speed and fastballs," Fisher said. "I think it's definitely a challenge for other teams that they're going to have to try and figure out how to get him out because not a lot of people are doing it right now."
Anderson, Baxendale (.308, 1 homer, 15 RBIs) and Fisher (.233, 7 HRs, 31 RBIs) have formed a lethal combination lately in the 3-4-5 spots in the batting order.
"It's definitely a boost for me having somebody like Blake Baxendale that's just swinging a hot bat," Anderson said. "Then you've got Eric Fisher hitting behind him. So I guess you can say I really feel protected. Baxendale has just been seeing the ball unbelievable.
"It's great to see him healthy," Baxendale added. "Seeing him healthy, just seeing what he can do, it's really incredible. Having guys like him and Fisher hitting behind me and then having guys like (Joe) Serrano and (Tyler) Spoon getting on ahead it's really starting to come together for us."
Arkansas Set To Host Auburn
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