Auburn Faces Tough Task Against Bulldogs

Auburn needs another big weekend series as the Tigers travel to Starkville to face the Mississippi State Bulldogs.

Auburn, Ala.—Looking for their third-straight SEC series win, the Auburn Tigers (23-14, 5-10) travel to Starkville to face the streaking Mississippi State Bulldogs (30-9, 8-7) in a three-game set beginning Thursday night with a 6:30 p.m. start on ESPNU. Winners of seven of its last nine games, Auburn is a team with confidence heading on the road and Coach John Pawlowski says that's great to see from his team after a rough start to open conference play.

"I think it really helps when you go on the road to a place we haven't been (Texas A&M) and won two out of three and winning two out of three against Georgia," Pawlowski says. "In this league it's kind of irrelevant who you play and know you're going to have a battle on your hands every weekend. I do think that after the start we had you can't help but go, OK, when are we going to start winning? When are we going to get our opportunity and have success. It's great to see our guys have that. The confidence continues to grow with this club."

The Tigers will need all the confidence it can summon against a streaking Mississippi State team with seven wins in eight games and coming off a sweep of Texas A&M last weekend on the road. Off to their best start in SEC play since 2007, the Bulldogs have depth on the mound and a talented offensive attack that Auburn will have to handle.

"We are looking forward to obviously playing Mississippi State, a team that's playing extremely well right now," Pawlowski says. "They've got an experienced lineup and a very good pitching staff. They've got a lot of pieces of the puzzle in place there and it'll be a great test for our club. I feel like we've been making strides and playing much better baseball now."

Listed as TBA on the mound for all three games, Auburn is dealing with a virus that has made its way through some of the team this week. Even with that the Tigers are hoping to send the same rotation this weekend with juniors Conner Kendrick (2-1, 1.93 ERA) and Michael O'Neal (7-2, 2.40 ERA) on Thursday and Friday with fellow left-hander Will Kendall (0-4, 6.75 ERA) on Saturday.

Mississippi State is expected to counter with former reliever Luis Pollorena (6-1, 3.02 ERA) on Thursday before turning things over to the red hot Kendall Graveman on Friday. The Alexander City native has thrown three consecutive complete games and is currently 5-2 with a 2.15 ERA. Saturday's starter is expected to be sophomore left-hander Jacob Lindgren (3-1, 3.08 ERA). Throw in sophomore closer Jonathan Holder and you have a serious challenge this weekend for Auburn's offense. Already with 11 saves, Holder is 1-0 with an ERA of just 1.85 and has struck out 42 in just 24 1/3 innings this season.

Hitting .270 as a team, Auburn is led by senior first baseman Garrett Cooper. Batting .333, Cooper leads the team with four home runs and 29 RBI this season. One of the keys has been the play of Ryan Tella as the junior has increased his batting average to .315 and has scored 33 runs in 37 games this season. Pawlowski says he has seen a different team offensively the last two weeks after settling in at the plate.

"I think they're getting a better idea and better understanding of what their goals are at the plate," Pawlowski says. " I think that, in the beginning, especially in the SEC season, I thought that you can look back on it and obviously we faced some very good pitching, which we will this weekend. Maybe some of the guys were pressing a little bit and felt like they had to do too much and I think now the guys are starting to settle into their roles and understand what it is that we need to do to accomplish offensively. I think they're starting to settle in. Last night we didn't swing the bats particularly well earlier in the game. We also got it going and opened that thing up last night."

Game times for the weekend series are set for 6:30 p.m. on both Thursday and Friday and 4 p.m. on Saturday. Thursday's game can be seen on ESPNU with Friday's game broadcast regionally on CSS.

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