Currently 24-16 overall and 6-12 in league play, Coach John Pawlowski's club needs a series win with Ole Miss, Arkansas and Florida still on the conference slate and this weekend is the perfect time for that to happen. With just 12 games left in league action both Auburn and Missouri are fighting to get into the Top 12 in the league and guarantee a spot in the conference tournament in Hoover.
At just 13-22 overall and 5-13 in SEC play, Missouri appears to be a team ripe for the picking, but looks can be deceiving. On the road last weekend at Florida they lost by two runs on Friday and just one run on Saturday before bombing the Gators on Sunday. Pawlowski says this will be another challenging weekend in the league for his team facing a capable Missouri squad.
"It's another opportunity for us," Pawlowski says. "You've got 12 opportunities left in conference and you have to make the most of those. It is an important series for all the right reasons.
"Missouri presents another challenge in this league that we look forward to," he adds. "It looks like they have a very good starting rotation, something that will be a great opportunity for our hitters. It looks like that's a strength of their ball club. It will be a good test for us."
Only 11th in the league in team ERA at 4.24, Missouri has struggled some on the mound earlier this season but they've gotten better pitching in recent weeks. On Friday night they'll send Rob Zastryzny (2-7, 4.22 ERA) to the mound against Conner Kendrick (2-2, 2.09 ERA) for Auburn. Saturday Missouri will have right-hander Brett Graves (0-5, 4.86 ERA) to counter Michael O'Neal (8-2, 2.13 ERA) for Auburn. On Sunday Auburn will send Daniel Koger (0-2, 4.02 ERA) back to the hill for the first time in three weeks after a sore shoulder sidelined him.
Offensively this is another chance for Auburn to take a step forward as a club. Hitting .269 as a team this season with 16 home runs, the Tigers have been good in spurts but have left too many opportunities on the bases this season. In SEC play Auburn's average has dropped down to .257 with just 60 runs scored in 18 league games.
It's not because Auburn hasn't had opportunities however. In 18 conference games this season Auburn has loaded the bases 17 times and in those situations the Tigers have not had one single hit. Throw in the fact that Auburn is scoring runners from third base with less than two outs just 48 percent of the time and you have a team that needs something to happen in the clutch.
"We still have to be productive offensively," Pawlowski says. "17 times we've had the bases loaded and haven't had a hit yet. You would think that if we have a hit here there then that's one or two runs. That could be the difference in winning some games. We've also got to do a much better job of getting runners in from third base with less than two outs. We've just got to be more efficient offensively."
Auburn will need to follow the lead of senior outfielder Cullen Wacker to make that happen. Currently ninth in league games with a .364 average, Wacker is hitting .426 in the month of April with two home runs, four doubles, and 11 RBI.
Game times for the weekend series are 6 p.m. on Friday, 2 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday. There is no television for the series.