Tigers Face Must-Win Series Vs. Rebels

Auburn needs to have a strong second half of the SEC schedule, beginning this weekend against Ole Miss at Plainsman Park.

Anfernee Grier (above) has been on fire for the Tigers at the plate

Auburn, Ala.--With a 23-15 overall record and 5-10 in SEC play at the halfway point of the 2015 season, the Auburn Tigers return home this weekend against Ole Miss in what is in essence a must-win situation for Coach Sunny Golloway’s club. Despite a Top 20 RPI because of a very tough schedule to this point, Auburn needs wins and Golloway said there’s no hiding that.

“With everything we have done with RPI and strength and schedule, if I were on the committee I would say, ‘Hey, they deserve to go, they have got some quality wins,’ but when you look at our conference record it is not deserving,” Golloway said. “So, the bottom line is we have got to win games in the conference. We have got to take care of business.

“We keep talking to our guys, ‘When was the last time Auburn baseball has been in a situation where hey, you have to win to advance or you’re out type of situation’, which you are going to face when you get into tournament play, whether it is the SEC Tournament or the NCAA Tournament.”

The Tigers will have to get the job done against an Ole Miss team that has played the nation’s sixth-toughest schedule to this point on the way to an 18-17 record. Coming off a series win on the road last weekend at Vanderbilt, the Rebels are 5-4 in games against teams ranked No. 1 this season after also beating Florida twice in late March.

Hitting just .246 as a team this season, Ole Miss has struggled mightily in SEC play this year with an average of only .219 in 15 games. That should be just what the doctor ordered for an Auburn staff that has pitched well recently, especially Friday night starter Cole Lipscomb (4-1, 2.44 ERA) and Saturday starter Keegan Thompson (7-2, 2.84). Thompson enters the weekend off back-to-back complete games against Arkansas and LSU.

Auburn will have to pitch very carefully to the middle of the order however with the power coming from veteran Sikes Orvis and red hot Colby Bortles. Although batting just .230, Orvis has a team-high eight home runs and 30 RBI. The brother of Blake Bortles, Colby is making a name for himself this season for the Rebels with an average of .274 with six home runs and 28 RBI. Entering on a six-game hitting streak, Bortles has his three home runs the last three games, including a pair of grand slams.

The Rebels will send left-hander Christian Trent (5-3, 4.20) to the mound on Friday, right-hander Brady Bramlett (4-2, 2.49) on Saturday and freshman right-hander Will Stokes (0-3, 5.40) on Sunday to face an Auburn offense that is batting just .249 in league play with 58 total runs in 15 games. It hasn’t been all bad as Kyler Deese has come on strong, hitting a team-high .366 in league play, just ahead of Anfernee Grier (.354).

On the flip side, three key players for the Tigers have struggled in SEC play and must get going if Auburn hopes to make a run towards the postseason in the second half. Batting just .248 overall and .231 in league play, junior outfielder Jordan Ebert coming out of his slump would be huge for the offense. The same is true of Damon Haecker.

While the infielder/outfielder is hitting .274 overall this season, Haecker’s average dips to just .172 (10-58) against SEC opponents with only two RBI. The same is true of Cody Nulph. With an overall average of .273, Nulph’s has just 10 hits in 57 at-bats against the league and an on-base percentage of only .213, but does have nine RBI to tie for the team lead.

Game times for the weekend series are scheduled for 6 p.m. on Friday, 3 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday.

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