Major Road Test As AU Faces No. 2 Gamecocks

Auburn is looking to win its fourth consecutive SEC baseball series this weekend.

Auburn, Ala --Tied atop the SEC's Western Division along with Ole Miss and Arkansas, the Auburn Tigers (23-18, 9-9) will have their hands full this weekend on the road as coach John Pawlowski's baseball club faces No. 2 ranked South Carolina in a three-game series at Carolina Stadium in Columbia.

Game times are set for 6 p.m. CDT on both Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday with the first two games of the series airing on SportsSouth and the last on ESPN All three games will also be on ESPN3.com.

At 32-8 overall and 14-4 in the SEC, South Carolina picked up where it left off last year as Ray Tanner's club won the 2010 National Championship. Led by a strong pitching staff that features one of the league's top starters and closers, the Gamecocks will be a formidable opponent for an Auburn team that has won three consecutive SEC series with two coming on the road.

"South Carolina is one of the elite teams, not only in our conference but also in the country," Pawlowski said. "They are very talented and are a solid team that plays very well at home It will be a great challenge for us this weekend."

Auburn will start junior right-handed pitcher Jon Luke Jacobs (1-3, 3.90 earned run average) on Friday and junior right-hander Derek Varnadore (4-1, 3 67) on Saturday, but has not determined its Sunday starter. Pawlowski said it could be either junior Zach Blatt or fellow junior Cory Luckie as both should be ready to go this weekend. Blatt was bothered by a blister on his throwing hand last week while Luckie was shut down after experiencing a tired arm.

Luckie wasn't the only injured Tiger last week as freshman left fielder Bobby Andrews was banged up on a sliding catch against Ole Miss and missed the final game of the series as well as both midweek games this week . Pawlowski said they will have him in a limited role only against the Gamecocks.

"Bobby Andrews saw a hand specialist and right now he can pinch run and might be able to bunt," Pawlowski said. "I think it's going to be the middle of next week before he can start swinging. We may take a few swings this weekend just to test it. It's still pretty sore right now He's day to day."

South Carolina will start junior left-handed pitcher Michael Roth (9-1, 1 26) on Friday, sophomore right-hander Colby Holmes (3-1, 4 12) on Saturday and freshman right-hander Forrest Koumas (4-0, 2.85) on Sunday. Those three head up a Gamecock staff with a team ERA of just 2.63 this season Featuring a very deep bullpen, South Carolina has relievers John Taylor (3-1, 0.87), Matt Price (4-2, 2.10, 12 saves) and Jose Mata (3-0, 2.21), a group that has been difficult to hit this season.

At the plate South Carolina is hitting just under .300 as a team, but has 35 home runs and plenty of power potential. Even though the Gamecocks will be without SEC Player of the Year candidate Jackie Bradley Jr. because of an injury, big Christian Walker is very capable of carrying a team offensively. This year he leads the Gamecocks with a .374 average, nine home runs, 12 doubles and 43 runs batted in.

Auburn is in search of its first series win over South Carolina since 1997 and just the fourth series win overall over the Gamecocks.


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