Baseball Tigers Hit the Road to Face the Tide

The Auburn baseball team looks to win its fourth-straight SEC series against Alabama.

Tuscaloosa, Ala- The No. 23 ranked Auburn baseball team will try to win its fourth-straight SEC series of the season when it travels to face arch-rival Alabama in three games this weekend in Tuscaloosa, a place where the Tigers haven't won a series since 2004.

"Going on the road, going to Alabama will be a great challenge," said coach John Pawlowski. "I told out team we need to continue to find ways to get better, to continue to develop and do the things that we've done so far. And we know Alabama will be a great challenge as it always is."

Auburn (17-11, 6-3) defeated Alabama (10-19, 1-8) earlier this season 8-3 in a non-conference game at the Capital City Classic in Montgomery.

Pawlowski doesn't think Alabama's struggles this season will factor into the effort the Tide gives against the Tigers.

"I certainly haven't looked at their record as far as that being being any different factor," the head coach said. "Are they going to be more motivated or not? I think anytime you get Auburn and Alabama together, there's always motivation. That's motivation in itself."

With a 2.33 staff earned run average in league games that leads the SEC, the Tigers will look to continue their success from the mound against the Tide, whose 6.34 ERA against SEC teams ranks last in the league.

Senior Derek Varnadore (1-3, 4.06 ERA) will take the mound Friday against Charley Sullivan (2-2, 4.42). The Tigers have averaged only 2.7 runs per game in games when Varnadore starts this season.

The Tigers' ability to pitch and play defense will be the key to success this weekend against the Tide, who Pawlowski said has an experienced lineup. While pitching has been solid for Auburn this season, the Tigers have struggled at times on defense. They are next to last in the SEC in fielding percentage (.959) and have committed the second-most errors with 44.

Coach John Pawlowski

"The biggest thing we've talked about all the time is our ability to throw strikes and our ability to make routine plays defensively," Pawlowski said. "We've had some really good defensive games where when we really needed to turn a big double play or make some big plays. We've done that. We need to continue to do that because, obviously, Alabama's a dangerous team."

The Tide have struggled at the plate this season and ranks last in the SEC in batting average (.254), slugging percentage, hits, runs scored, RBI and on-base percentage (.339), among others.

On-base percentage, in particular, is something that Pawlowski said he constantly emphasizes to the Tigers, who rank second in the league at .402.

On Saturday, Auburn's Will Kendall (4-0, 2.14) gets the start against left-hander Justin Kamplain (1-2, 3.21). Kendall's 2.14 ERA currently ranks ninth in the conference. He's holding opposing hitters to a .213 average from the plate, good for 10th-best in the league.

"I think the biggest thing with Will is his confidence," said Pawlowski. "He's a three-pitch guy and he's going out there with a lot of confidence. When he got the opportunity to start, he's taken it and just continued to get better."

Auburn's starter in Sunday's game, freshman Daniel Koger (2-1, 1.85), is fourth in the SEC in earned run average. Left-hander Jon Keller (0-1, 4.18) will take the mound for the Tide.

"You never really know what you're going to get with freshmen," said Pawlowski of Koger. "You feel like success is going to come. You're just not exactly sure when it's going to be here. My goodness, he's gone out there and he's competed from day one, and from that very first start against Missouri, I believe it was, he's given us a chance to win."

The series starts Friday with the first pitch scheduled for 7 p.m. CST. Saturday's game starts at 3 p.m. CST, and Sunday's at 1 p.m. CST. Fox Sports South will carry Friday's game, while Saturday's will be carried on CSS.

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