A team that is built on pitching and defense, Auburn will need to find the offense against a Cougar squad that enters the regional hitting .309 as a team with 68 home runs and knows what it takes to win a regional after taking out Florida last year in Gainesville as the fourth seed.
Taking care of College of Charleston is easier said than done, however,as Auburn must have success against one of the top pitchers in the country, redshirt junior right-hander Taylor Clarke. Entering the 2015 season after winning 10 games a year ago for College of Charleston after transferring from Towson State and missing much of the 2013 season because of Tommy John surgery, Clarke has been especially tough this year and will present a difficult challenge for an Auburn offense that has struggled for much of the year to put runs on the board.
Making 16 appearances with 15 starts, Clarke leads the nation in wins with a record of 13-1 overall and has two complete games and an ERA of just 1.34 this season. Throwing 107 1/3 innings, Clarke has allowed just 68 hits and 16 earned runs and opponents are hitting just .178 against him. When you add in 136 strikes and just 14 walks you have a pitcher that will force the Tigers to swing the bat early and often.
Hitting .276 as a team, Auburn is led by sophomore Anfernee Grier’s .335 average, 41 runs scored, and 22 doubles while first baseman Daniel Robert has been the big bat in the middle of the lineup with a .299 average and a team-high 37 RBI. Those are two of the key offensive weapons for the Tigers as they prepare to face College of Charleston, but it’s going to take production up and down the lineup for Auburn to do some damage against Clarke.
Getting sophomore Anfernee Grier going at the plate will be a key for the Tigers.
On the other side Auburn has flirted with the idea of sending out Rocky McCord as the starter on Friday, but the Tigers could also go with current ace Cole Lipscomb in that spot as well. Currently 5-4 with a 4.12 ERA, McCord could be a good matchup for the free-swinging Cougars because of his breaking ball, but Lipscomb has definitely been the guy for the Tigers for much of the 2015 season. Entering the regional with a record of 8-1 and an ERA of just 2.38, Lipscomb has shown he can beat some of the best teams in the country this season.
No matter who the Tigers go with they’ll have to contend with an offense that has plenty of depth and talent throughout the order. Leading the way is Blake Butler with a .338 average and 12 home runs. He is one of seven Cougars batting over .300 and one of five players that have at least five home runs on the roster. In a park that is made for offense, this group will be a challenge for Auburn’s pitching.
Keys To Victory
A team that can score runs in bunches, College of Charleston has been held under four runs just three times in its last 25 games, meaning Auburn’s offense has to come out swinging on Friday. During that same 25-game stretch the Tigers have been held under four runs 10 times, meaning Grier, Robert and the rest of the offense must capitalize on their opportunities against Clarke because they may be few and far between.
Most Important Player
While there are plenty of guys that need to step up for the Tigers, getting Grier going at the top of the lineup is a big deal for Auburn’s offense. In addition to being a table-setting, Grier’s pop provides some much needed explosiveness for the Tigers. While he’s not a huge home run threat, at his best he’s a doubles machine and with Robert swinging well along with Melvin Gray, the top of the order has a chance to provide some instant offense if Grier can get back in a groove.
Most Important Player, Part 2
Auburn right fielder Damon Haecker has played well for the most part this season, but on a few occasions had struggled defensively. This week he’ll get a stern test with a short right field wall at Dick Howser Stadium making for a tough defensive assignment. Time and time again over the years big plays have come in right field in regionals at Tallahassee, making Haecker a key player to watch defensively for the Tigers.
Stat To Remember
The Cougars have a strong 43-13 overall record and an RPI of 17, but have a record of just 12-10 against Top 100 RPI teams. Compare that to Auburn’s record of 19-20 against Top 100 RPI schools and you have a group of Tigers that is much more seasoned against top competition. That could come into play Friday with Auburn used to taking on top programs week in and week out in the SEC.
First pitch for Friday’s game is scheduled for 11 a.m. CDT and can be seen on ESPN3/WatchESPN.