Needing at least one win to become eligible for NCAA postseason play, the Tigers will get their first shot against the number one team in every major poll this week as the Gamecocks enter the tournament 44-12 overall and 22-8 in conference play.
Entering the 2011 SEC Tournament, Auburn is 29-37 all-time in the event with a record of 9-15 in Hoover. The Tigers are 2-2 against South Carolina in games played in Hoover including last year's 3-1 extra-inning victory.
However, for the most part the Gamecocks have dominated the series since joining the league for the 1993 baseball season. Auburn is just 16-36 all-time against South Carolina including a sweep in Columbia earlier this year. With another opportunity to face Ray Tanner's club, Auburn Coach John Pawlowski said the team is pretty similar to the one his team saw not too long ago.
"I'm not sure if they've changed an awful lot," Pawlowski said. "They've had a tremendous year from start to finish if you look at the number of games they've won. Obviously, they are the number one seed. I think they've been pretty consistent throughout the whole year."
All season long Auburn has dealt with adversity as the Tigers started the SEC season 2-7, were swept three times this season in conference play, and dealt with a variety of injuries to key players such as pitchers Jon Luke Jacobs, Cory Luckie, Derek Varnadore and Justin Bryant as well as position players Bobby Andrews and Dan Gamache.
Jon Luke Jacobs is shown in action for the Tigers.
South Carolina has had its share of problems as well with the biggest being the loss of All-American outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. Pawlowski said he hasn't seen it bother the Gamecocks too much and the reason is because it's just something teams have to deal with.
"I think every team goes through adversity and certainly injuries are a part of it," Pawlowski said. "Coach Tanner has done a great job and they've certainly weathered the storm. I look at the SEC top to bottom and I think any team in this conference has the capability and the talent to play well beyond the SEC Tournament and on a national stage. I think not only South Carolina, but any team in the SEC has the capability of winning a national championship."
In Wednesday's SEC Tournament opener for Auburn, the Tigers will send Jacobs (1-4, 3.59 ERA) to the mound against one of the nation's best in left-hander Michael Roth (10-3, 1.28) for the Gamecocks. A player who came on strong for South Carolina in last year's College World Series, Roth has been dominant this season on the mound.
While his won-loss record doesn't show it, Jacobs has been outstanding in recent weeks for the Tigers and put up one of his best performances of the season in a loss at South Carolina. Allowing just one run on five hits in eight innings, Jacobs stood toe to toe with Roth before the Tigers fell 2-1. Over his last four starts Jacobs has thrown 27 2/3 innings, allowing just 10 earned runs on 23 hits with 26 strikeouts.
If Jacobs can get it done it could be another close game with the dimensions of Regions Park making for some low scoring games even in the hot bat era of college baseball. Now with the bats toned way down and scoring at a premium, Pawlowski said it changes the way teams have to approach things on offense.
"When you look at the size of the park and when we take batting practice for the guys that have been here they will know what to expect, but for some of those young guys when those balls aren't getting out it will be an eye-opener," Pawlowski said. "It just reinforces the importance of having quality at-bats and approach. That's going to be the key is trying to manufacture runs in this park."
The winner of the Auburn-South Carolina game will face the winner of No. 4 seed Vanderbilt and number five seed Georgia in the last game on Thursday while the two losers will play game two on Thursday. Wednesday's game can be seen live on CSS and also at ESPN3.com.
Auburn-South Carolina By The Numbers:
Team Batting: Auburn (.299), South Carolina (.298)
Hits: Auburn (583), South Carolina (559)
Runs: Auburn (330), South Carolina (352)
RBI: Auburn (307), South Carolina (322)
Slugging Percentage: Auburn (.425), South Carolina (.437)
Leading Hitter: Auburn (Casey McElroy .370, 8 HR, 52 RBI), South Carolina (Christian Walker, .358, 9 HR, 57 RBI)
Team Pitching: Auburn (5.09 ERA), South Carolina (2.64 ERA)
Opponent Batting Average: Auburn (.293), South Carolina (.229)
Hits Allowed: Auburn (578), South Carolina (416)
Fielding Percentage: Auburn (.967), South Carolina (.975)