Tigers Preparing For Road Tests Vs. Vols

Auburn takes on Tennessee this weekend in a three-game SEC baseball series in Knoxville.

Auburn, Ala.--The Auburn Tigers hit the road this weekend to for an SEC baseball test as Coach Sunny Golloway's club will have its hands full at No. 14 Tennessee in a three-game series in Knoxville.

Currently 2-1 in the league and 15-7 overall, Auburn has been tested so far this season as have the Vols. Already with two true road trips under their belts, the 18-2 Vols are off to one of the best starts in school history, but Golloway noted that he likes the matchup for his team.

"They're a really good club," the first-year Auburn coach said. "Their record speaks volumes. Their RPI is really high because they've won. Their strength of schedule has not been tough. Their really good road wins are at Missouri in the SEC and at Arizona State, but then when you look at Missouri and Arizona State, it doesn't look like their records are that good. It's hard for me to gauge really what we're going into so we need to approach it like they're going to be top of the chart right now with one of the best records in the SEC. I feel good about matching up, I really do. I feel good about our starting pitching."

Auburn's pitching for the series will start with senior Dillon Ortman, who is throwing well to start the year (4-1, 1.83 ERA). The Huntsville native knows what it's like to go on the road in SEC play, but this time however he will do it as Auburn's Friday night starter. It's a role he has been preparing for since last year and he noted that he can't wait to take the mound against the Vols.

"We're very excited to open up our second weekend in Knoxville," Ortman said. "They are playing really good right now, but we're playing with a lot of confidence also.

"We have a lot of veterans and a lot of older guys that have been around the block," he added. "We have been to Tennessee before so our job is to help them learn anything about the field and dimensions so they can settle down and enjoy it."

Joining Ortman in the rotation is a young guy who has made as much impact as any freshman in the country so far this season. Currently 4-0 with a 0.69 earned run average, Keegan Thompson has been dominant in his role as Auburn's Saturday starter in addition to seeing time at first base. Sophomore Justin Camp (1-2, 2.90) rounds out the starting rotation for the Tigers this weekend with senior and 2013 SEC starter Michael O'Neal (1-2, 2.96) also available for Auburn. Golloway said that pitching has him excited about this weekend and the rest of the year for the Tigers.

"I was asked earlier in the week by some of the national writers--as we start to get a little bit of consideration--do we deserve to be ranked? And I told them that I really don't think that we do yet. I thought the Tennessee series would tell an awful lot about it, but I did say that if we were in a tournament format todaywe'd be very, very tough.

"Our first two guys (Ortman and Thompson) are really good," the coach said. "You would have to beat them both to get us out of the tournament, which I don't foresee happening. Then you'd go to (Justin) Camp and you'd go to (Michael) O'Neal, and our three and four are going to be as good as anyone in the country."

Offensively, Auburn is led by senior Damek Tomscha. Splitting his time between third and first base this season, Tomscha has been on a roll lately. Raising his average to a team-leading .414, Tomscha also leads the team with five home runs, five doubles and 18 RBI. Fitting in nicely to the leadoff role, sophomore Jordan Ebert has been a valuable table-setter for the offense. Batting .365 Ebert has an on-base percentage of .414 and has struck out just four times in 63 at-bats this year.

The Tigers will be challenged by a Tennessee team that Coach Dave Serrano has playing at a very high level. A successful coach on the West Coast, most notably at Cal-State Fullerton, Serrano's teams like to pitch, play defense, and beat you by executing the short game. Hitting .298 as a team with an ERA of 2.47 and a fielding percentage of .984, the Vols have excuted well enough to win games so far this year.

On the mound Nick Williams (3-1, 1.48) gets the call on Friday night for Tennessee with Saturday setting up as a showdown as Thompson will face off against Vols' ace Hunter Martin (2-0, 0.73). Sunday has Andrew Lee (2-0, 3.46) going to the hill for Tennessee.

If the Vols can build a lead and get to the bullpen that's going to make it difficult for Auburn because reliever Andy Cox is one of the best in the country. With a 3-0 record and an ERA of just 0.92, Cox has allowed just 12 hits in 29 innings this year.

At the plate Nick Senzel leads a balanced attack for Tennessee that features five players hitting over .300 for the season. The power comes from Scott Price and Christin Stewart with three home runs each.

Game times for the weekend series are scheduled for 5 p.m. CST on Friday, 3 p.m. (CSS) on Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday.

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