Tigers Face Bulldogs In Huge SEC Series

Auburn will face Georgia this weekend as the Tigers try to stay in the race for the SEC Western Division title.

Auburn, Ala.--Despite being 9-12 in SEC play following a sweep at the hands of top-ranked South Carolina and just 23-21 overall, the Auburn Tigers find themselves just a game out of first place in the SEC's Western Division heading into this weekend's series against the Georgia Bulldogs (24-21, 13-8). With only nine games left in the regular season Coach John Pawlowski said his team knows it has to get it done beginning this weekend if it hopes to reach the postseason.

"As you start winding down the number of opportunities you have each game becomes more and more important," Pawlowski said. "At the beginning of the season you talk about having a lot of baseball left to play, but now they're winding down. It becomes time to execute and get it done. It's still up for grabs for any team in the West right now."

Making a difficult job even tougher for the Tigers is the injury bug that keeps rearing its ugly head in 2011. Losing senior Justin Bryant in the first week of the season for the year with an arm injury, Auburn has lost pitchers Jon Luke Jacobs, Derek Varnadore and Cory Luckie at different times of the season as well and Pawlowski said Luckie is again struggling with arm problems.

"We'll evaluate him today to see if he'll be available at all this weekend," Pawlowski said of Luckie. "Hopefully he'll be able to help us this weekend. If not someone else will certainly have to step up."

Fortunately for the Tigers Jacobs is back healthy and coming off his best performance of the year in a loss to South Carolina. Allowing just a run on five hits in eight innings to the Gamecocks, Jacobs enters his Friday night start with a record of (1-3, 3.32 ERA). He will face off against sophomore left-hander Alex Wood (4-5, 4.23) for Georgia. Pawlowski said they were encouraged by what Jacobs did last week on the road.

"I thought he pitched in the zone and out of the zone as well as he had," Pawlowski said. "We continue to preach to guys about being able to command pitching inside the zone. He did a really good job in advantage counts of pitching outside the zone, making guys chase his breaking ball, elevating his fastball."

Varnadore (4-2, 3.92) will have the challenge of going up against one of the top pitchers in the league in junior RHP Michael Palazzone (8-1, 2.14) for the Bulldogs on Saturday. With Luckie ailing Sunday's starter is still to be determined with junior Zach Blatt one of the likely candidates. Georgia will send junior lefty Craig Gullickson (3-2, 6.14) to the mound.

In the pitching department isn't the only place Auburn is battling injuries however as two key components are struggling with injuries heading into the weekend. Straining a hamstring last weekend at South Carolina, junior third baseman/DH Dan Gamache (.331, 4 HR, 26 RBI) is questionable for the series while freshman Bobby Andrews (.396) is out of an everyday role for at least a few more weeks said Pawlowski.

"Dan Gamache is feeling better," Pawlowski said. "Hopefully he'll be able to help us this weekend. He took batting practice Wednesday. Bobby Andrews is probably still a couple of weeks out yet from swinging the bat or bunting. He's available to pinch run if we decide to put him on the roster, but other than that he's very limited. He's making progress, but it hasn't been as quickly as we had hoped."

Georgia comes in having won five of its last six games overall including wins over Georgia Tech and two over Arkansas last weekend. Entering this weekend 9-3 against teams from the Western Division, the Bulldogs are a veteran team that has been tested time and time again this year. Pawlowski said it will be a difficult challenge for his team at Plainsman Park.

"Their strength of schedule is number one in the country," Pawlowski said. "They are an experienced team. Their rotation, we'll see two lefties and a righty. Their pitching has done a really nice job for them. Their front-end pitching has really kept them in a lot of ballgames. Offensively it will be a challenge for us. They've got good arms and they know how to pitch."

Game times for the weekend series are scheduled for 6 p.m. on Friday, 3 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday. There is no TV for the series.

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