Tigers Face Tough Challenge At Arkansas

Auburn needs a big weekend as the Tigers travel to Arkansas to face the 24th-ranked Razorbacks in a three-game SEC baseball series.

Auburn, Ala.--Looking to build on a positive performance Tuesday night in a 6-1 win over South Alabama, the Auburn Tigers (23-19, 7-11) take to the road this weekend to face a surging Arkansas Razorbacks team in a three-game series that will be played on Friday and Saturday.

Needing to win the series to stay in the race for the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Coach Sunny Golloway said he's seen improvement out of his team despite four one-run losses in the last seven games.

Next up is an opportunity to make something happen this weekend at Arkansas (27-16, 9-9). Coming off a midweek sweep against Northwestern State, the Razorbacks have won six of their last seven games overall. Included in that stretch is a series win over Vanderbilt last weekend in Fayetteville.

Golloway said his team will face a stiff challenge this weekend, but he believes they are ready.

"I think we're starting to come together," the first-year Auburn coach said. "Time will tell. Our guys really have played seven pretty good ball games in a row. It has been tough when we haven't won them, but the guys are staying positive.

"This is a tough bunch," he added. "We've lost some midweek games and have still come back and played really well on the weekends. It will be a tough weekend. It's always tough in Fayetteville, but it's always tough every weekend. Our backs are to the wall and we'll go see how well we can play."

On the mound the Tigers will send senior Dillon Ortman (7-2, 2.02 ERA) out on Friday night with freshman Keegan Thompson (5-2, 1.66) in his customary Saturday role. For the second half of Saturday's doubleheader the Tigers will go back to senior Michael O'Neal (2-4, 3.61) after giving Trey Wingenter a shot last weekend. Auburn's most experienced starter, O'Neal is a guy that pitching coach Scott Foxhall believes in and that's something that Golloway said is important now that he's calling pitches again.

"I have relinquished calling the pitches back over to Coach Foxhall the last two games and I think he has done a terrific job," Golloway said. "He understands the philosophy that we want to try to pitch. It is a little different than what has been done in the past, but it can work. He believes in it and he's got his pitchers believing in it, and he's in control."

At the plate Auburn is led by sophomore left fielder Jordan Ebert. Hitting .373, he leads the team with 57 hits and has also added 22 RBI. In SEC play Ebert is batting .363 and leads the league with 29 hits. The power comes from senior Damek Tomscha with his .346 average and five home runs, but in SEC play Blake Austin has been the guy for the Tigers.

Hitting .292 for the season with two home runs and 27 RBI, Austin has put it together in the league. With both of his home runs and 15 RBI in 15 league games played, Austin's .364 average is sixth overall among SEC players. As one of the captains for the Tigers he feels like there is plenty of good baseball left for his team and there is no better time than this weekend back on the road.

"It's fun to just be with the guys," Austin said. "You're around the guys 24-7. You're roommates and you hang out with other people. You each breakfast, lunch and dinner with the guys and spend time at the ballpark. It has always been fun for me to get on the road and get away from everything like school, your family, your people around you. We always feel like we're road warriors."

Austin and the Tigers will have a tough task this weekend getting to an Arkansas pitching staff with a team ERA of just 2.29. Leading the way is Jalen Beeks (5-3, 1.49), the Friday night starter for the Razorbacks. Opponents are hitting just .207 off Beeks, who has 54 strikeouts and just 15 walks this year. Chris Oliver (5-3, 2.29) has been almost as good, striking out 38 with just 18 walks in 59 innings.

At the plate Brian Anderson leads the way with a .333 average, four home runs, and 39 RBI. Hitting just .264 as a team, the Razorbacks have been productive on offense with 228 runs scored this season in 43 games. Compare that to Auburn, who has a team batting average of .283 but just 187 runs scored.

Game times for the weekend are 6:35 p.m. on Friday and 4:05 p.m. on Saturday for a doubleheader. The game originally scheduled for Sunday afternoon was moved up a day to avoid a potential rainout.

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