Offense The Key For Tigers In Hoover

Auburn will face South Carolina on Wednesday at the SEC Baseball Tournament in Hoover.

Hoover, Ala.--There is no question that the new bats have made a dramatic impact on the game of college baseball in 2011 and that could become even bigger this week at the 2011 SEC Tournament in Hoover.

Always known as a pitcher's park, Regions Park is a cavernous stadium that should make the offensive numbers dwindle even more as eight SEC schools try to win the tournament championship.

Offenses have already been reeling this season with the change in bats making it a different game at the plate. In 2010 SEC teams hit for an average of .305 with 954 home runs and 1,455 doubles for the entire season. That averaged out to 2.57 home runs and 3.92 doubles per game.

One year later and the difference is staggering. While the batting average isn't a huge difference, down to .291, the home run total is a drastic change. This season SEC teams have hit just 442 home runs, an average of just 1.33 per game. There have been 1,219 doubles as well, an average of 3.65 per ball game.

Auburn is one of the teams that has been greatly impacted this season after tearing up the league last year with a .348 batting average and 131 home runs. Fast forward one year and the Tigers are hitting .299 with 38 home runs.

Making things even tougher for the Tigers this week is the fact that Auburn is facing one of the league's top pitchers in South Carolina left-hander Michael Roth. Already dominant, he'll be pitching in a park that itself shut down SEC offenses last season.

In 13 SEC Tournament games a year ago teams hit just .259 overall and scored an average of just four runs per game. There were just 14 total home runs hit in 13 games in 2010 as well despite the huge totals the rest of the season. Because of that Auburn senior Kevin Patterson said the Tigers will need to be smart offensively this week in Hoover.

"The park is huge," Patterson said. "With the bats being different this year I think we're going to have to keep the same approach we've had all year. Our park is kind of shallow in center, but we've played in bigger parks and still won games. We just have to focus on hitting line drives and not trying to lift the ball. We need good approaches to move guys over and manufacture runs to be successful."

Justin Hargett

Senior second baseman Justin Hargett agreed with Patterson, saying that Auburn just has to focus on the little things to be successful this week.

"It's going to be different," Hargett said. "I remember last year, even with the hotter bats there weren't many balls hit out of that place. It's a deep field. We're going to have to use the short game and execute the small things and not worry so much about the home runs. It's a different mindset this year than last year.

"I think it's easier now to just accept it and I think most of the guys on the team understand that," Hargett added. "We're just working on our swings to simplify things. We need to put good swings on the ball and if it carries out it carries out, but we know we have to do the small things to win."

For Auburn it is a must considering the situation the Tigers find themselves in. With a record of 29-27 overall, Coach John Pawlowski's club must win at least one game to be eligible for NCAA Regional play and that still might not be enough. Patterson said all this team is focused on is playing well and getting the job done.

"You want to compete in a regional and put yourself in a position to get to Omaha," Patterson said. "We want to do what we did last year and that is play in a regional and compete for a national championship. Getting to Hoover is important, but we've dropped a lot of games this year and not played too well in the midweek games. That's coming back to bite us right now. We're going into Hoover focused and knowing what we've got to do."

Eight-seed Auburn will face off against number one seed South Carolina (44-12) at 4:30 p.m. CDT on Wednesday at Regions Park. The game can be seen live on CSS and online at ESPN3.com.


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