FAYETTEVILLE - While every Southeastern Conference coach will tell you every weekend series is important, the Arkansas-Auburn series beginning tonight at 6:35 p.m. at Baum Stadium carries a little more significance for both teams.
For the No. 9 Razorbacks it's a chance to rebound from some recent offensive struggles and wash away the taste of last weekend's bitter loss at Florida.
For the Tigers it's a chance to make a statement in a bid for the postseason and stay on pace to make it to the SEC Tournament for the first time since 2003.
"You look at each series as the season winds down and the importance of each series continues to grow," Auburn coach John Pawlowski said. "Obviously it's a big series and the next one will be an even bigger series."
The Tigers (28-14, 10-8 SEC) enter Fayetteville on the heels of two weekend series wins in their last three tries, including taking two of three last week against Kentucky. Auburn leads the SEC in nearly every offensive category and is paced by first baseman Hunter Morris, who is in the top five in the SEC in average, hits, home runs and RBIs.
"He's having an incredible year," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "His extra base hits are way up there and he's leading the league in a lot of categories and they've got some good hitters around him, and that's why he's getting pitched to.
"They've got a veteran team. These guys that are putting up the big numbers have been in that lineup for three years now and some of them four. They're putting it all together."
Arkansas (34-8, 13-5) seemed to also have it all together before a road bump last week at Florida. The Hogs lost two of three there before rebounding for a 5-4 midweek win over Missouri State on Wednesday.
Like Auburn, the Razorbacks are near the top of the SEC in every offensive statistic, but have struggled some from the plate of late. Entering last weekend Arkansas had recorded at least 10 hits in 17 consecutive games, but have failed to hit double-digits in the last four contests. But don't tell Van Horn his team is struggling.
"Really there are just a couple of guys that are fighting it," Van Horn said. "I don't think we're having any struggles to be honest with you. I'll know more after the weekend; that will be more of a test."
This weekend will also be a test for a Razorback pitching staff that has performed well of late. That includes left-hander Drew Smyly, who will take the mound Friday night.
Since returning from an absence caused by a blister on his throwing hand, Smyly has been lights-out, earning the win in each of his last four starts against Kentucky, Mississippi State, Georgia and Florida. In those games he has pitched a combined 30 innings while striking out 26 batters and allowing just nine runs.
"When you look at Arkansas they can hit home runs and they can pitch, and that's why I think they are where they're at right now," Pawlowski said. "They're a strike-throwing machine. They throw a ton of strikes. They know how to play.
"They're a team that's nationally ranked, fighting to be a national seed and to be a team that hosts in the regionals, so for a lot of reasons I think it's an important series."
Auburn (28-14, 10-8) at No. 9 Arkansas (34-8, 13-5)
When: Tonight at 6:35 p.m., Saturday at 2:05 p.m., Sunday at 1:05 p.m.
Where: Baum Stadium
TV: Friday - Cox Sports TV; Saturday and Sunday - None
Radio: Razorback Sports Network
Series Record: Auburn leads 33-29
Pitching Rotations: Arkansas - LHP Drew Smyly (6-0, 2.22), LHP Randall Fant (3-0, 2.60), RHP Brett Eibner (3-3, 4.04); Auburn - LHP Corey Luckie (5-2, 6.64), TBA, RHP Grant Dayton (4-2, 5.14)
Important Weekend for Hogs, Tigers
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