Playing in spacious Hi Corbett Field, the Wildcats under the direction of veteran Andy Lopez are a team built on pitching and defense, making for a good matchup for the Tigers.
Having already faced a quality weekend opponent in Missouri, Auburn enters the series hitting .350 as a team with 20 stolen bases and a team ERA of just 2.51, but has still managed a pair of losses because of untimely walks and some shaky defense. Preparing to face one of the nation's top teams, Coach John Pawlowski said it's just another weekend for a team getting ready to play in the SEC.
"They are very good," Pawlowski said. "That is what being in the SEC is. Being in the SEC is playing challenging teams every weekend, and this will be no different. It will be a great challenge for us this weekend, especially taking this team on the road for the first time."
The Tigers will be facing an Arizona team hitting .270 and without a home run in four games this season. The Wildcats have just nine extra-base hits in four games with eight of them being doubles, and have stolen 13 bases in 16 attempts. On the mound Arizona has a team ERA of 3.75 after taking care of North Dakota State and Utah Valley the first week of the season.
One of the keys to Auburn's offensive success so far this season has been the running game, something that could be big this weekend in a park built for pitching. With almost half of the 2011 total for stolen bases already Pawlowski said it is the style of play his team must continue to use if it hopes to be successful this year.
"The guys know that for us to be successful and for our offense to work then we're going to have to do the short game," Pawlowski said. "We're going to have to steal bases. We've been fortunate that some guys at the plate have been able to take some pitches for these guys to run. The biggest thing is putting pressure on the other team."
At the plate Auburn is led by sophomore catcher Blake Austin who is hitting .545 with four doubles and three runs scored in four games. Senior Creede Simpson has been perhaps Auburn's steadiest player so far, hitting .500 with four doubles, four stolen bases and four runs scored. He has also played a solid second base since moving from the outfield.
As Auburn's most experienced position player, Simpson knows exactly what to expect from the road trip even though he's never faced Arizona. With road trips to LSU, Arkansas, South Carolina, etc. under his belt, Simpson said he's looking forward to seeing how this team responds to the test this weekend.
"On the road it's a little different, but you're still playing the same game," Simpson said. "The fans are different and the atmosphere is different and the dimensions of the field are different, but when it comes down to it you're still playing the same game. You just have to slow things down and relax. It's fun. I enjoy playing on the road and I think these other guys will too."
Friday night will feature one of the top pitching matchups in the country as Auburn senior Derek Varnadore (1-0, 1.29 ERA) will face off against Arizona junior Kurt Heyer (1-0, 1.29). With a 16-9 career record and an ERA of 2.73, Heyer was fourth nationally in strikeouts last season with 134 and had six double-digit strikeout games in 2011.
On Saturday the two teams will play a doubleheader with Auburn freshman Daniel Koger (0-0, 0.00) getting the start in game one and junior Slade Smith (0-1, 9.64) in game two. Arizona will counter with right-handers Konner Wade (0-0, 2.45) and James Farris (1-0, 0.00). A sophomore, Farris pitched eight shutout innings in his first career start to seal the series win over North Dakota State last Sunday.
Game times for the weekend are 7 p.m. CST on Friday with Saturday's doubleheader scheduled for 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. All times are Central.