Offense Coming Together For Baseball Tigers

Auburn leads the league in hitting through seven weeks as the Tigers prepare to face Georgia on the road.

Auburn, Ala.—In a season that started out as one that the Auburn Tigers (25-19, 10-11) wanted to manufacture runs and play small ball offense, Coach John Pawlowski's club has shown that it can do more with the bat than just bunt.

Leading the Southeastern Conference in team hitting with a .318 average, first in triples with 17, and second in doubles with 91, the Tigers have improved steadily since early in the season and Pawlowski said it's all because of hard work and the kids buying in to what they want to do offense.

"I think it's a tribute to the coaching staff obviously and the job those guys have done," Pawlowski said of assistants Link Jarrett and Scott Foxhall, volunteer coach Ty Megahee, and student coaches Gabe Gross and Wes Gilmer. "They have done a really good job of helping the guys understand what we're trying to do. I think the second part of it is that the players have gone out and done it. They've worked hard.

"These guys understand that we could be a good offensive team and they have to buy in, and they have. They understand what it takes. I think our offense continues to evolve. We continue to find ways to score runs up and down the lineup. We're not a one-player dominant lineup. If you have one guy in the lineup you can pitch around him, but we've got a bunch of guys in the lineup that find ways to contribute."

That was shown last weekend as the Tigers swept Tennessee at Plainsman Park by scoring 35 runs in three games. While players such as Ryan Tella, Creede Simpson and Garrett Cooper have led the way for much of the year, over the weekend it was time for someone else to step up and catcher Blake Austin delivered. Going 7-11 with 10 RBI in three games to earn SEC Player of the Week, Austin added to what was already a deep lineup.

Entering the season with Simpson as the only regular starter returning in the field and Cullen Wacker seeing considerable action last year, the Tigers entered 2012 knowing they would have to count on newcomers across the board to get the job done. So far they've done that and more as Tella leads the team with a .376 average and is second with four home runs. Shortstop Dan Glevenyak is hitting .336 and is tied for second on the team with 11 doubles. Cooper has done his job as well, hitting .329 with four homers and 25 RBI. Pawlowski said getting production from the newcomers and young guys has been huge for this team.

"We knew that was going to be an important piece to the puzzle and those guys were going to have to find ways to contribute," Pawlowski said. "They've done a great job. Cooper has done a good job defensively and Danny has done a good job defensively. All three of them, when you look at what they've done, I think some of it goes unnoticed with the defensive job they've done. On the offensive side they've been instrumental in where we are as a team offensively."

The depth of Auburn's offense is something that stands out when you look at the Tigers on paper. Simpson and Zach Alvord are tied for the team lead in RBI with 29 this year, but they are just two of seven players that have at least 24 runs batted in so far in 2012. That makes it hard for teams to focus on one part of the Auburn lineup. When you throw in Auburn's knack for stealing bases, a league-leading 80 this season, and you have an offense capable of getting hot and making something happen.

"We still have that part in our game where we are going to move guys over and bunt guys over," Pawlowski said. "I think the short game opens up the big game. They make a mistake or don't make a play and the next thing you know a guy hits one in the gap. I think the guys have a lot of confidence now offensively in what they are doing and understand how we're trying to play. We still have the ability to steal bases and that's a big part of it too. We've got a lot of different facets to our offense that I think have helped."

The key for Auburn's offense in recent games and over the long haul is going to be clutch hitting. While the Tigers have hit nine home runs in the last eight games, overall they have just 25 on the season. Because of that it's going to take everything coming together and the right time once again this weekend as the Tigers travel to Georgia to face the Bulldogs in a three-game series in Athens.

Needing to stay hot coming off a perfect 4-0 week, Auburn is playing its best baseball of the season to this point. Pawlowski said that the Tigers have had their share of ups and downs to this point, but in the end he's hoping they can continue to let it hang out and play winning baseball.

"It was exciting for these guys because I know they have worked so hard," Pawlowski said. "I know we've had some tough weekends and that's what this league is about. You just have to find a way to rebound. I thought starting on Tuesday down at Troy and then last weekend our team had a lot of rhythm. Things were starting to flow. When we needed a big base hit we got it. When you're in rhythm and have a flow to your team then good things happen."

Game times for the weekend series at Georgia are 6 p.m. on Friday, 3 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday. All times are central. Friday's game can be seen on FoxSports South and Saturday's contest will be shown on CSS.

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