Tigers Hope To Rebound Against Gators

Auburn is looking for its first series win against Florida since 1997 when the Tigers play the Gators this weekend at Plainsman Park.

Auburn, Ala.--After dropping SEC baseball series the last two weekends against Arkansas and Vanderbilt, the 13th-ranked Auburn Tigers (32-13, 13-8) took advantage of a good weather week and no midweek games to try to iron out some kinks on the practice field.

Unable to do that because of weather problems and illness the last few weeks, Coach Steve Renfroe says this week's preparation is very important for his team as it gets ready to play the 21st-ranked Florida Gators (31-13-1, 10-10-1) at Plainsman Park in a three-game series.

Steve Renfroe

"I think it was vital," Renfroe says about having a good week of practice. "We haven't been on the field for hard practices in over a month because of rain or we weren't just able to do it because of the weather. What we were able to do is go back and do all of our defense again, which is something we try to do every week.

"We were able to turn up the heat a little bit and play situations live instead of walking through them and I think that just helps you," Renfroe adds. "When you are going at game speed it helps to maintain that and when you can't you can get caught a little bit sometimes where the game speed might get you. It was a big week for us."

Trailing division leader LSU by two and a half games, Auburn is hoping to stay within striking distance when the Tigers make a trip to LSU next weekend. They will have to get the offense going if they hope to find themselves in good shape come Sunday night. Auburn has scored just 30 runs in the last seven games (2-5) and that probably won't be good enough this weekend against a team that is scoring nine runs per game this season and has 55 home runs and 111 doubles.

Brett Dowdy leads the Gators at the plate with a .386 batting average, four home runs and 40 runs batted in. Just behind him is Ben Harrison, who has an average of .365 with seven home runs and 44 RBI.

Catcher Brian Rose is at .359 with nine home runs and 37 RBI, while C.J. Smith supplies the power with 14 home runs and 56 runs batted in. As a team Florida is hitting .321, but the Gators have struck out 302 times this season. The Gators are also one of the top running teams in the league with 50 stolen bases in 63 attempts.

The job of stopping the powerful Florida lineup will go to Auburn's rotation of Colby Paxton on Friday night, Arnold Hughey on Saturday night and Cory Dueitt on Sunday.

Colby Paxton will take the mound for the Tigers.

With a record of 5-1 and an ERA of 3.81, Paxton will face off against freshman Bryan Ball for the Gators. Ball is 4-1 with a 3.38 earned run average. On Saturday Hughey (4-4, 4.21 ERA) will take on Florida's top pitcher in sophomore Justin Hoyman, who is 7-3 with a 3.06 ERA. Renfroe said Hoyman is one of the top hurlers the Tiger will see this season.

"He's a guy we wanted badly and thought we were on him," Renfroe says. "Florida got on him real late and he wanted to be a Gator. He's another guy that qualified for a lot of that in-state (money) and we lost him. We thought we were going to get a number one pitcher. We were on him that hard. He's that good. He has gone out and stopped pretty much everybody. He's a legit, SEC number one guy. He's got an explosive fastball and a very good breaking ball."

Sunday has Auburn's Dueitt going while Florida is listed as TBA. A former long reliever for the Tigers this season, Dueitt is 6-2 with a 2.03 ERA this season in 24 appearances with three starts. In his first start in SEC play last week against Vanderbilt, Dueitt gave up just one run on two hits in five innings while striking out two. His addition has given the Tigers a solid rotation, one that Renfroe says pitched well enough to win the series against the Commodores.

"The pitching kept us in every game with a chance to win," Renfroe says. "That's the positive side for us."

At the plate the Tigers had perhaps the worst weekend of the season in losing two of three in Nashville. Auburn scored just 11 runs in three games, including a shutout on Sunday. Those numbers will have to increase dramatically this weekend against the Gators. Sophomore Tug Hulett continues to lead Auburn with a .393 average and a team-best 21 doubles. Junior first baseman Karl Amonite has rocketed his way up to second on the team in hitting with a .347 average with eight home runs and 42 RBI. In his last eight SEC games, Amonite is hitting .581 (18-31) with four home runs, two doubles, seven runs scored and 13 runs batted in.

Second baseman Tug Hulett has been a key hitter for Auburn as a sophomore.

Another hot Tiger is third baseman Scott Schade. Hitting .320, Schade has hit safely in 18 straight SEC games, the longest by an Auburn player since 2000 when Mailon Kent hit in 22 straight. During that stretch Schade is 27-63 with nine runs batted in. On the other end of the spectrum is senior Bobby Huddleston, who is 8-34 in his last nine SEC games with seven RBI, four of which came in one game. If Huddleston can get going to team with Amonite in the middle of the Auburn order, things could be just fine for the Tigers the last three weeks of the season as they head into the SEC Tournament.

"The one thing about this team is that we have not been hot," Renfroe says. "Hopefully, we'll get hot. It has been somebody different here or there, which is a good sign. If Bobby and Javon (Javon Moran) and Tug, if they all get going with the way Karl is going and he starts getting hot with his power, he could be a series wrecker. I think he could take some over for us."

Game time for the weekend at 6:30 p.m. both Friday and Saturday. Sunday's game is scheduled for a 1:30 p.m. start. Saturday's game will be televised by the Sunshine Network while Sunday's game will be live on Comcast/Charter Sports Southeast.

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