Tigers Vs. Tide At Plainsman Park

Auburn is one of five teams within a game of the lead in the SEC's Western Division as the Tigers face rival Alabama this weekend.

Auburn, Ala.--With only two weeks remaining in the SEC's regular season, the chase for the Western Division in baseball is one of the closest races in conference history this late in the year. Five teams are separated by just one game for first place and two of those teams will face off this weekend at Plainsman Park when the Auburn Tigers (26-23, 11-13) take on rival Alabama (30-20, 12-12) in a key three-game series for both teams.

"When you look at it a one game swing could mean a lot of difference," Auburn Coach John Pawlowski said. "The players understand the importance of each game and each series, but it's so close. One game for five different teams, I don't know if that has ever happened. Maybe it has, but it's pretty amazing. I guess that's parity at its finest."

The series would be big no matter the opponent, but making it even more special is the face that it comes against Alabama. Earlier this season the Tigers defeated the Crimson Tide 2-1 at the Capitol City Classic in Montgomery, but it's a different game when it's the weekend. Auburn'S Friday night starter Jon Luke Jacobs said that as far as weekend series go this is about as big as it gets.

"Coming into the weekend regardless of who we're playing, we need to win ballgames," Jacobs said. "The way the West is all stacked in there together we just need to win. With Alabama coming in it means a little bit more. We're not going to try to change our approach with how we go about things because it's Alabama. We just have to go out there and try to win ballgames."

The united logo painted just behind home plate at Plainsman Park in honor of the victims of the storms that came through Alabama last month.

Currently Alabama and Arkansas are tied for the lead in the west with Auburn, Ole Miss and Mississippi State one game back. The Tigers would be tied as well if not for a ninth-inning collapse Sunday against Georgia when Auburn allowed nine runs on just three hits to the Bulldogs in a loss. Senior Wes Gilmer said the loss was a tough one, but the team had to move forward.

"It was difficult," Gilmer said. "It was a frustrating loss, but the important thing is we came in and won the series. As frustrating as that loss was it's important just to put it behind us because we still have a lot of work to do. We've put it behind us and we're moving on."

Jacobs (1-3, 3.18 ERA) will get the call on Friday night for the 6 p.m. start against Nathan Increase (5-4, 3.55) for Alabama. On Saturday it's Derek Varnadore (5-2, 3.41) up against Adam Morgan (5-4, 3.84) for the Crimson Tide while Sunday the Tigers are TBA with Slade Smith (2-0, 6.42) likely to get the call.

On the injury front Pawlowski said Cory Luckie (arm) and Bobby Andrews (wrist) are both day-to-day and could be available this weekend if they do well in Thursday's practice.

Entering the weekend series Alabama is hitting just .277 as a team with a total of just 18 home runs, but it hasn't kept them from being successful on the field. The Crimson Tide is a perfect 4-4 in series against Western Division teams this season because of clutch hitting and very good pitching.

At the plate Taylor Dugas is the man for Alabama, hitting .335 from his leadoff spot with a team-high five home runs, 16 doubles and eight stolen bases. Still, Pawlowski said things start on the mound for this Alabama team. With Kilcrease and Morgan starting and Jonathan Smart (4-1, 1.83, 8 saves) out of the bullpen it will be a challenge for the Tigers.

"Their pitchers have done an outstanding job," Pawlowski said. "Kilcrease and Morgan, those guys have been there three years and have been mainstays in their rotation. They have pitched extremely well. We'll need quality at-bats because when you look at their numbers they can strike you out or beat you in a lot of different ways.

"They are playing well. In a three-game series you have to get a couple of breaks. Hopefully we can catch a few breaks this weekend and have a chance to win some games."

Game times for the weekend series are scheduled for 6 p.m. on Friday, noon on Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday. The Saturday game can be seen live on CSS.

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