Tigers Playing For More Than Pride

Auburn is still playing for a shot at the overall SEC Regular season championship as well as seeding in next week's SEC Baseball Tournament in Hoover.

Auburn, Ala.--The baseball regular season comes to a climactic ending this weekend as the 13th-ranked Auburn Tigers (36-16, 16-11) welcome the Ole Miss Rebels (32-21, 16-11) in a series that could have a huge impact on the postseason destinations for both teams. With a very high RPI and strength of schedule, it appears a good weekend would ensure the Tigers of staying at home for the sub-regional round of the NCAA Baseball Tournament. Auburn Coach Steve Renfroe said that's not a concern for his team, but it's always in the back of your mind.

"I've heard everybody's opinion on it and most of them are probably wrong," Renfroe said. "We've got the number two RPI in the country. I think if we win the series we will probably be hosting.

"Their pitching numbers are really scary. They've got some great freshman. They've got a real good mix because they had some great freshmen that are now sophomores. They've had two great recruiting classes. They've got some holdover seniors, some older guys. I think they've got a great mix. They've got great arms. They're just a typical solid SEC team and they're a championship type club. It should be a lot of fun playing this weekend."

Ole Miss comes into the weekend series riding high following a sweep of the Florida Gators last weekend in Oxford. The top pitching team in league games this season with a team ERA of just 3.62, Ole Miss has one quality starter in Friday night hurler T.J. Beam (5-1, 2.51 ERA) and Mark Holliman (1-4, 4.40) and Eric Fowler (3-1, 5.01) are expected to get the starts on Saturday and Sunday, but where the Rebels make their mark is in the bullpen.

Javon Moran has been a sparkplug for the Auburn offense the last two weekends.

Led by all-everything freshman Stephen Head, the Ole Miss bullpen has been nothing short of outstanding in conference play. The closer for the Rebels in addition to playing first base and leading the team in hitting, Head has a record of 2-0 in SEC games with 9 saves. His ERA is a minute 0.58 in 31 innings pitched and he's allowed just 18 hits. Also chipping in is Brae Wright, who is 2-0 with a 2.33 ERA in 19 1/3 innings in conference play.

A confident player, Head is deadly at the plate in addition to his pitching duties. Leading the team in hitting at .367 with six home runs, 38 runs batted in and nine doubles, he is capable of taking over a game either pitching or hitting. Just behind him is Seth Smith, who has an average of .328 with four home runs and 26 runs batted in. Ole Miss is hitting .288 as a team this season with 36 home runs and 103 doubles. Not a big running team, they have just 38 stolen bases as a team.

For the Tigers, the health issue is a big one this weekend. Both catcher Bobby Huddleston and first baseman Karl Amonite have been banged up this week and haven't practiced. Huddleston has been hampered by a sore ankle since the Saturday game of the LSU series and hit for the first time on Wednesday. Amonite, hit in the same foot twice in a span of just three days, has been wearing a walking cast, but should be ready for Friday night's game.

"That's my biggest concern," Renfroe said. "Bobby Huddleston did not play Tuesday, he could not have played yesterday nor today. Karl Amonite was taken from the game and did not practice yesterday. He could not have played if we played today. There are a couple of other guys that are nicked up that have played hurt and they are going to play. That's my biggest concern."

While he is concerned about having his two best power hitters in the lineup, Renfroe is happy to see the top of the lineup getting back to form late in the season. Both Sean Gamble and Javon Moran have come alive lately and that has made a big difference to the Auburn offense. Renfroe said if both can get it going it will make the rest of the season very fun for the Tigers.

"He did it last year," Renfroe said of Gamble. "The last four weeks he just started rolling. We made a little adjustment a week ago and he's that kind of kid. He's a clutch player. I think he's a guy you want up there. I think he can stay on fire and be a force.

"It seems like one of them will be going or the other one," Renfroe said of Gamble and Moran. "If they both get going we score runs. That hasn't happened much over two years. One of them has been hot and one of them hasn't. All of the sudden the last week and a half both of them have been getting going. I think if those two get off we might be real dangerous."

On the mound the Tigers will send out Colby Paxton (6-2, 3.74) on Friday night at 6:30, Arnold Hughey (5-5, 4.34) on Saturday at 3 p.m. and Levale Speigner (8-0, 2.60) on Sunday afternoon at 1:30. Both Saturday's and Sunday's games can be seen live on television with Saturday on Fox Sports Net and Sunday on Comcast/Charter Sports Southeast.


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