Gators Present Big Challenge For Tigers

Auburn (29-24) faces off against Florida (38-15) needing wins in order to help its cause for the postseason.

Auburn, Ala.—Coach John Pawlowski's Auburn Tigers face a tough task this weekend as top-ranked Florida comes to Plainsman Park looking to finish off a very good 2012 regular season. While Florida (38-15, 16-11) is fighting for a top national seed in the NCAA Tournament, Auburn (29-24, 12-15) is hoping to inch closer towards getting a berth in a regional following the SEC Tournament with a series win over the Gators.

"For us there is a lot (to play for)," Pawlowski said. "Obviously we're trying to continue to improve our standing in the SEC and looking beyond to postseason play. It is important. Coming into the season we knew going into the last few weekends of the year every series was going to be important. This year is no different."

The weekend may just hinge on the strengths for both teams as Auburn comes into the weekend as the top hitting team in the league with a .317 average, 34 home runs, 19 triples, and 108 doubles in 53 games. In league play the Tigers have been solid as well, hitting .305 with 17 home runs and 57 doubles in just 27 games.

On the flip side it has been pitching that has carried the Gators in SEC play despite having a stacked offensive lineup. With a team ERA of just 2.85 in conference action this year, Florida has just one player with an ERA over 4.70 in league play. In the last 15 SEC games the Gators have allowed just 37 total runs and not over 10 in any series.

Leading the way is a solid starting rotation of Hudson Randall (6-1, 3.29 ERA), Brian Johnson (5-4, 4.29) and Karsten Whitson (3-0, 3.33). Out of the bullpen Greg Larson (6-0, 1.49), Austin Maddox (3-2, 1.50) and Steven Rodriguez (3-1, 1.70) round out a fantastic staff for the Gators.

"To me the one thing about Florida is that they have good arms, but they have out pitches," Pawlowski said. "They know how pitch. They've got out pitches. It's very talented top to bottom. I think it has been one of the biggest differences with their club and what they have done this year. We're going to have to play some solid defense to keep ourselves in the game. Pitching and defense, I think that's going to be the key this weekend."

At the plate the Gators are led by Daniel Pigott's .330 average. He has also added seven home runs and 32 RBi this season for Florida. The power comes from All-American catcher Mike Zunino. Hitting .320, Zunino has 14 home runs, 22 doubles, and has driven in 49 runs this season. Throw in Preston Tucker and his .304 average and 12 home runs along with nine home runs from Nolan Fontana and you have a powerful offensive attack for the Gators.

For Auburn Ryan Tella continues to pace the Tigers with a .387 average and he's also added five home runs, 34 RBI, and 16 stolen bases. Senior Creede Simpson will be playing in his final home games this weekend and he enters with a .333 average and 23 stolen bases. On a tear lately, right fielder Jay Gonzalez is hitting .317 for the season with 27 stolen bases in 31 attempts.

Game times for the weekend series are 6 p.m. on both Thursday and Friday with a 1 p.m. start scheduled for Saturday's final game of the series.

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