Auburn (34-14, 15-9), has won more series at Alex Box Stadium than any SEC team since 1991 and that trend must continue if the Tigers hope to catch the division leaders before the regular season is finished the following weekend.
The trip to Louisiana is a special one for many members of this Auburn team after the 2001 Tigers won two of three on Coach Skip Bertman's final weekend series as LSU's coach. The series win earned Auburn a trip to the conference tournament and a berth in the NCAA Tournament later in the year. That won't be a concern for this year's team, but the pressure of playing for first place against LSU (33-16-1, 16-7-1) should make for an interesting weekend. Auburn Coach Steve Renfroe says this is the ultimate weekend if you have an interest in college baseball.
"It's just a fun place to play," Renfroe says. "The fans are just great. They are baseball fans. The atmosphere, there's none better. It's like that all the time, but when there is something riding on it, it takes on a whole new meaning. If we play very well then it will be a fun weekend. When there is good baseball played there, no matter who wins or loses, it really becomes a special weekend. That's what I hope happens. I hope it comes down to a great match on Sunday battling it out and that good baseball is played."
Auburn's pitching staff has a tough challenge this weekend to hold down the top offensive team in the league. Leading the SEC in conference games in batting average (.331), home runs (33), doubles (58), slugging percentage (.521) and second in triples (six), stolen bases (20) and fewest strikeouts (136), the Bengal Tigers will be tough to tame this weekend.
Auburn slugger Karl Amonite has been on a hot streak at the plate.
For Coach Smoke Laval's club the intensity on offense begins with shortstop Aaron Hill. Second in the league to Auburn's Karl Amonite in hitting in conference games with an average of .404, Hill has been a one-man wrecking crew lately. Leading the SEC in doubles with 15 in just 24 league games and sporting a .500 on-base percentage, Hill is just one of nine solid hitters in the LSU batting order. The power comes from Clay Harris, who has eight home runs, nine doubles and a league-best 32 RBI in conference play.
Bolstered by freshman Nate Brumstead, the LSU Tigers have the deepest pitching staff in the league despite several major injuries that have hampered the effectiveness of the group at times. Sixth in the league with a 4.40 ERA in conference play, just behind Auburn's 4.17, LSU has four complete games and has a league-best 186 strikeouts in 212 2/3 innings. With enough quality pitchers to run a different guy out in key situations, Renfroe says LSU's staff creates a lot of problems for a team in a three-game series.
"They're tough," Renfroe says of LSU's pitching staff. "We've got 40 films on them and they come at you right and left. They have sidewinders, over the top, hard throwers and breaking ball pitchers. They can keep running them out there. It's really going to be imperative for us to be patient and try to put pitches in all of them and get in hitting counts. If you play their game and they get ahead, it could be a long day."
For Auburn the story in recent games has been the play of Amonite. A junior college transfer, Amonite began to hit his stride in conference play and has burned it up ever since. Hitting .440 in SEC games with seven home runs and 29 runs batted in, the left-hander has hit safely in 11-straight conference games, posting a .575 average during that time with four doubles, five home runs and 16 runs batted in. In his last two series, Amonite is hitting .636 (14-22).
Overall Tug Hulett continues to lead the Tigers in hitting with a .378 average and a team-high 21 doubles. Coming on strong is junior center fielder Javon Moran. The Valdosta, Ga. native is hitting .327 with 13 doubles, a league-high four triples, three home runs and 32 runs batted in. Moran leads the team in stolen bases with 18 in 22 attempts and has struck out just 27 times in 211 at-bats.
Colby Paxton has been a steady pitcher for the Tigers.
Auburn goes into the weekend series unsure of the starting rotation. While Friday and Saturday are penciled in as normal with Arnold Hughey (5-4, 4.03 ERA) and Colby Paxton (6-1, 3.39) set to take on LSU, Sunday is listed as TBA. Renfroe says the coaching staff decided that they would hold nothing back in the first two games and whatever remained in the bullpen would work Sunday's game. That means Levale Speigner, Chris Dennis, Cory Dueitt, Eric Brandon and possibly Josh Sullivan could all see action at some point in the weekend series.
Game times for the weekend are 6 p.m. CST on Friday, 2 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday. Sunday's game can be seen live on Comcast/Charter Sports Southeast.