For a team that has been successful on the road this season with a 14-5 record, including wins over North Carolina, Georgia Tech and Mississippi State, Auburn is looking forward to playing a big series in one of the best environments for college baseball anywhere in the country.
"I was talking to some people today and we agreed, it doesn't get any better than this," Colby Paxton says. "You get to go down there and they are one and a half ahead of us. It's just a pressure packed weekend and you have to love being in that situation coming here.
"More or less the pressure is on them," Paxton adds. "They have to defend number one. We're coming in trying to take it from there. A little bit more pressure is on them, but we still have some on us. I think you have to thrive on this situation, you have to want to be in this situation. I think that's how we are."
A reason for confidence this weekend among Auburn's veterans comes from their experience in Baton Rouge two seasons ago. With a record of 13-14 going into the season's last regular season weekend, the Tigers traveled to Alex Box Stadium to face LSU and promptly were blown out 20-5 in Friday night's game. Things looked bleak as well on Saturday as the Bengal Tigers jumped out to a big lead before a thunderstorm hit the area. When things cleared up a different Auburn team came out and came back for a 9-7 win. Sunday the Tigers held on for a 9-7 win to make the SEC Tournament and complete one of the most dramatic runs in Auburn baseball history.
"I think it does help," Paxton says of two years ago. "Most of the guys on this team then were freshmen and they were a great team. We battled back from 0-9 (SEC record to start season) and got two wins on a weekend that was Skip Bertman's last weekend. It's just a huge impact to know how to play those guys and know the conditions and know the fans. They are crazy. It's awesome. It's a great atmosphere. I think it benefits us because we have gone down there and done it in that atmosphere."
Auburn enters following the best starting pitching weekend of the season against Florida. In three games, Paxton, Arnold Hughey and Cory Dueitt allowed just six runs in 18 2/3 innings. Especially good were Paxton and Hughey, who both pitched over seven innings each and allowed just two combined runs. Those numbers will likely need to be matched again if the Tigers hope to come back with a series win over LSU. It won't be easy though as Auburn's pitchers haven't had a history of performing well against their Tiger counterparts.
"I know they have some really good arms," Paxton notes. "Hopefully, we'll go out there and battle their arms like we did this past weekend. Hopefully, our starting three will go out there and do our jobs and get us late in the game and allow our bullpen to take over."
One thing Paxton regularly does is get better when the mercury rises. Seemingly every season, when the hot weather approaches, Paxton starts to pitch well. This season is no different as his last outing showed when he didn't allow a run and only two hits against Florida. In fact, the Tigers have won his last five starts and he's 3-0 with a 2.63 ERA in his last four outings.
"I've got the feeling," Paxton says. "Usually when it's a little colder I feel a little stiffer. Once the weather gets warmed up that's when I'll hopefully start to hit my stride. At least that has been the case the last few years."
While the SEC Championship and a top seeding in the tournament in Hoover is the main goal this weekend, there is also the goal of playing host to a regional that is in the backs of fans and everyone involved in the Auburn program. Auburn probably needs three more victories to wrap up a sub-regional and four wins to ensure a Super Regional. Paxton says that those thoughts will be far from the minds of the players vs. LSU.
"I think this weekend is a single-minded goal," Paxton notes. "I think we have to go out there and do our job this weekend and let everything take care of itself. Right now it's not up to someone else to do our job. We can go in there and take over if we do our job. This is something where you look at just this weekend."