Fighting for a spot in the SEC Tournament and still within striking distance of an NCAA Tournament berth, Coach Sunny Golloway's club is hoping that strong starting pitching and solid defense will be the recipe for success after being close to breaking out each of the last three weekends.
"We've got to really finish strong," the first-year Auburn head coach said. "I think we have played well for probably 11 or 12 games now. We're probably doing what we can do. Our guys are playing as well as they can.
"We didn't make an error at Arkansas," Golloway pointed out. "We just have to keep doing what we've done. Our last five losses have been by one run and that has been pretty tough on the psyche of our kids, but we have still had our fair share of success during that run as well."
One of the biggest surprises in the SEC this season, senior Dillon Ortman enters Friday's contest at 8-2 overall with an earned run average of 1.92 in 79 2/3 innings. He has won five of his seven starts in league play this season and held a lead in the seventh inning in his other two outings.
Keegan Thompson has been a reliable starter for the Tigers.
Just as impressive has been freshman Keegan Thompson. With a record of 5-2 and a miniscule 1.74 earned run average in 10 starts, the Cullman native has struck out 62 and walked just 18 in 77 2/3 innings. Rounding out Auburn's starting group is senior Michael O'Neal. Coming off a win over the Razorbacks, O'Neal is 3-4 with a 3.43 ERA as he prepares for his Sunday start.
Auburn's starters will try to contain a Mississippi State offense that has struggled much of the 2014 season. Hitting .272 as a team with nine total home runs, the Bulldogs are led by Brett Pirtle's .343 average, 25 runs scored and 60 hits. The power is supplied by massive first baseman Wes Rea and Alex Detz with three homers each, but all three of Rea's homers came in a February doubleheader against Holy Cross.
At the plate sophomore Jordan Ebert leads the Tigers in hitting with an average of .364 while seniors Damek Tomscha, Ryan Tella and Blake Austin provide the power punch for the Auburn offense. Hitting .345, .331 and .282, respectively, the trio has combined for 11 of the Tigers' 13 home runs this season, 21 of the 47 doubles for the team and a third of the RBI total.
Mississippi State will send out a talented pitching staff to try to slow the Tigers. Trevor Fitts (3-2, 2.90) and Ross Mitchell (6-4, 2.35) are expected to be two of the starters for the Bulldogs with several candidates for the third spot in the rotation. Out of the bullpen the combination of Jacob Lindgren (3-1, 1.31) and Jonathan Holder (4-1, 2.78) have eight saves.
Game times for the weekend series are 6 p.m. CDT on both Friday and Saturday with Sunday's game set for 1 p.m. Saturday's game will be televised on CSS.