Tigers Looking To Bite Bulldogs

Auburn will be looking to keep pace in the tough SEC Western Division. The division has dominated the East early in the conference schedule.

Auburn, Ala.--The 8th-ranked Auburn Tigers look to continue their road success this weekend when they travel to Athens to face the Georgia Bulldogs in a three-game series. Undefeated in eight road games this season, Coach Steve Renfroe's club faces a Georgia team that is a hard luck 0-6 in SEC play and looking to get their season back on the right track.

Currently 22-5 overall and 5-1 in conference play, the Tigers have taken on all comers this season and have the number one RPI in the country thanks to a tough non-conference schedule. Already 8-3 against ranked opponents this season and 11-4 against 2002 NCAA Regional teams, Auburn looks to add to the best starting record for a Tiger team since beginning the 1999 season 24-3.

After struggling on the road in the last few seasons, this year Auburn has been able to more than hold its own with opponents away from Plainsman Park. With sweeps at North Carolina and Kentucky as well as a road win at top-ranked Georgia Tech, the Tigers have built something on the road that teams strive to find this early in the season. Renfroe said he can see in his team the poise and determination to win road games.

"I think the biggest key is the confidence in themselves," Renfroe said. "They seem to just play, that's what has been fun. Last year they were that way. Not huge mood swings, they go and they play. The thing that has happened this year, as you know last year or the year before Arnie (Arnold Hughey) would have had to stay in that game Saturday. We would have had to milk three more innings to have a chance and there would have been a chance we would have been fighting from behind three or four runs because he just wasn't sharp. We were able to go to Levale to change the momentum early in the game and I think that has helped us quite being able to bring a quality guy in because we generally defend pretty well. I think they've just kind of built on that. Their makeup is pretty good and they'll just show up and play."

Tug Hulett

Leading the way for the Tigers is second baseman Tug Hulett. Moved into the third hole in the Auburn lineup when Sean Gamble injured a hamstring in the Tennessee series, the sophomore has responded by opening the SEC schedule on a tear. Hitting .413 on the season, he currently is hitting .491 in the midst of a 13-game hitting streak (27-55) and has nine multi-hit games in the stretch.

"I think he has that comfort zone and is finally doing what he does best, which is hit doubles," Renfroe said of Hulett. "He's got in that rhythm and he's found his stroke and found his timing. He's never lacked for confidence, he's always believed that he can hit. I think he's stronger than he was. He's coming back off a knee injury, he's finally getting healthy. He's been through the battle. He's played a lot of tough baseball against good pitching. We put him in the three spot and he's just taken off."

With Hulett hitting behind him, junior center fielder Javon Moran had a big week and looks to be over a rough stretch where he struggled against Tennessee and Georgia Tech. Going 9-for-18 last week with 10 runs scored and six runs batted in, the speedy Moran, along with Hulett and leadoff man Clete Thomas, give the Tigers a potent top of the order. They have done a good job of setting the table for the middle of the order. Fortunately, lately Bobby Huddleston and Karl Amonite have driven them home time after time.

A junior college transfer, Amonite had perhaps the biggest power potential of any newcomer in quite some time when he arrived on the Auburn campus last fall. After showing signs of being the power hitter the Tigers have been looking for, Amonite hit the wall to open the 2003 season, but hard work and a little change in technique has proven to be just the thing for the big first baseman. Hitting safely in six straight games, he has posted a .450 batting average during that stretch with three doubles, two home runs and 11 runs batted in. Huddleston has done his part as well with 19 RBI in his last 11 games.

Karl Amonite

On the mound the Tigers will turn to veteran Eric Brandon to get the series off to a good start. The junior right hander is 2-1 this season with a 5.14 ERA this season in eight starts, but has been much better in SEC play, allowing just three earned runs in 11 2/3 innings in conference action. He will face Sean Rathren, a sophomore who is 2-3 with a 5.40 ERA. Saturday's pitching matchup will have Hughey (3-1, 3.73 ERA) against freshman Brent Benefield. A freshman, he has a record of 0-1 with a terrific 1.8 earned run average. The finale on Sunday has junior Colby Paxton on the mound for the Tigers against sophomore Mickey Westphal for Georgia. Paxton is 3-1 with a 2.84 ERA while Westphal is 2-0 with a 4.86 earned run average.

Just like they have all season, expect the Tigers to go early and often to the bullpen with Speigner, junior Cory Dueitt and sophomore Steven Register all well rested and ready to go. This season Auburn's bullpen is 12-2 with 10 saves and the group has 123 strikeouts in 124 innings. Leading Auburn in wins with six, Speigner has allowed 29 hits and 11 earned runs in 31 innings this season. Dueitt leads Auburn in earned run average with a 1.72 this season in 31 1/3 innings pitched and has given up just 25 hits in that time. Register has been just as dominant, giving up just 17 hits and seven runs in 23 2/3 innings this season. He has 28 strikeouts and no walks this season.

Game times for the weekend are 6 p.m. ET on Friday, 1 on Saturday and noon on Sunday. The Friday and Sunday games will both be shown live by Comcast/Charter Sports Southeast. Auburn leads the all-time series with Georgia 92-69, but the Tigers have won just two of the last seven meetings with the Bulldogs.

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