Tigers Set To Tangle With #8 Gamecocks

Auburn is looking for its first series win over South Carolina since the 1997 season. The Tigers are 9-32 against the Gamecocks since that time.

Auburn, Ala.—After two disappointing weekends in conference play, the Auburn Tigers (21-16, 7-8) return home to face off against two-time defending national champion South Carolina in a three-game series at Plainsman Park beginning Friday night. Struggling to open conference play, the Gamecocks (27-11, 8-7) have won seven of their last night in SEC games and will present the Tigers with a tough challenge said Coach John Pawlowski.

"It's a big weekend in the SEC," Pawlowski said. "South Carolina has been playing extremely well. I think they've won their last three series. We are looking forward to having the opportunity to play at home. We've been on the road the last two weekends. It's a great challenge with a South Carolina team that has been playing very well lately."

While South Carolina has some power in the lineup with 25 home runs as a team led by Christian Walker (.341, 7 HR, 38 RBI), pitching is where the difference comes in for the Gamecocks. With a team ERA of 3.00, South Carolina has allowed five or more runs just 11 times this season.

Much of the reason for that is a strong starting staff led by Michael Roth. A crafty left-hander, Roth is 3-0 on the season with an ERA of 2.55 and has a career record of 20-5 for the Gamecocks. He'll get the start Friday night with left-hander Jordan Montgomery (2-0, 2.48) on Saturday and right-hander Colby Holmes (5-0, 2.87) on Sunday. Throw in closer Matt Price (3-3, 2.93, 3 saves) and you have a dominating staff.

"They return some really good arms," Pawlowski said. "When they decided to move Price back to the bullpen, that's an elite closer. When you have those types of arms it's tough. Their numbers are very good. They have been very stingy in allowing teams to score runs. I think that's one of the strengths of their team is pitching.

"They've got some home runs," he added. "They've got some very good hitters in the lineup too. I think one of the trademarks of this team when you look at them is obviously their arms."

At the plate Walker leads a lineup that has outscored its opponents 197 to 123 this season. In addition to Walker's numbers, freshman Joey Pankake (.308, 2, 14) has been solid as well, but the additional power comes from L.B. Dantzler and Grayson Greiner. The two have combined for nine home runs and 48 RBI this season. That trio creates a formidable foe for the Tigers and Pawlowski said they'll have to be wary of where those guys are this weekend.

"You've got to know where you are in the lineup," Pawlowski said. "What we talk about with our pitchers is know where you are in the lineup and that you've got to do damage control. When you have their best hitters up there, Walker is an elite hitter, you've got to know the situation and what you're trying to do. With that lineup we've got to do a good job with that. They've got some threats in the lineup. With the way they pitch we're going to have to keep their scoring opportunities to a minimum."

Auburn will counter with the same rotation the Tigers used last weekend at Vanderbilt with seniors Derek Varnadore (1-5, 5.20) and Jon Luke Jacobs (5-0, 2.37) going on Friday night and Saturday respectively with freshman Daniel Koger (2-3, 2.66) taking the mound on Sunday. Coming off a fantastic performance in a win over Vanderbilt, Pawlowski said he's hoping for the same kind of start from Jacobs in his second SEC outing this weekend.

"It was exactly what we needed," Pawlowski said of Jacobs. "He's been out there in several different roles for us over the course of his career. It hurts when one of your guys go down, especially a guy like Will Kendall who has arguably been one of our better pitchers on the weekend. To have Jon Luke step in there certainly was a boost to our club."

Game times for the weekend series are scheduled for 6 p.m. on Friday, 3 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday. Saturday's game can be seen on SportSouth.

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