Auburn, Ala.--Two teams looking to jumpstart their SEC seasons meet this weekend in Columbia, Mizz. when Coach Butch Thompson’s Auburn Tigers take on Missouri in a huge series for both teams. Coming off a series loss at home to LSU, Auburn (14-15, 2-7) will face another set of Tigers this weekend that had a big road series win at Arkansas a week ago. Also 2-7 in the league and 18-13 overall, Missouri presents yet another challenge for an Auburn team that is trying to turn things around.
“Sunday was probably the most disappointing, disgruntled, frustrating, whatever you want to put in there,” Thompson said of the loss to LSU. “We just wanted to win the series so bad. What’s so neat about the sport of baseball is that it’s 48 hours later and you’re back playing and then 48 more hours we get another opportunity, and it’s Missouri, to go out and compete and try to win a series. We feel like we’ve been close a couple of times. You’ve got to win that first one before you can do anything.”
Close is exactly what Auburn has been for much of the year, but without much to show for it. Of Auburn’s 15 losses, 10 have come by two runs or less. Those are the types of things that senior Jordan Ebert said can be very frustrating because each game comes down to a play or two somewhere along the way, but it also shows them just how close they are to doing something very positive.
“We kind of haven’t gotten everything to click together just yet,” Ebert said. “We’re all optimistic right now. Butch is optimistic and Siss (Doug Sisson), we’re keeping a lot better mindset than I figured we would. I have been here before.
“I think we started 2-7 my freshman year and we started pretty bad last year (5-10 at halfway point of SEC schedule). My freshman year we come in and win our last five series or something like that. It’s possible. I try to preach to our guys that all the time that we’re not out of it. It’s a tough league and you can’t take any weekends off. All we’ve got to do is get on a roll.”
For Auburn to get on that roll it’s going to take all three areas to pick things up and that includes an offense that has scored runs in bunches, but has still struggled to capitalize in clutch situations in several losses. Led by two of the SEC’s top three hitters in Anfernee Grier (.427) and Josh Palacios (.408), Auburn’ s team batting average of .322 is over 40 points higher than at this point a season ago and if that continues the runs will come.
On the mound and defensively is where the real struggles have been this season. The pitching problems haven’t been a huge surprise with ace Keegan Thompson out this season after having surgery, but even four weeks into SEC play the Tigers are still searching for the right starting combination.
This weekend Auburn will switch things up once again with junior Cole Lipscomb moving to the leadoff spot for Thursday night’s game with Justin Camp on Friday and Andrew Mitchell on Saturday. Pitching well the last two weekends, Lipscomb (1-3, 5.61 ERA) will face off against one of the best in the SEC in Missouri’s Reggie McClain (3-1, 2.58). Camp (2-1, 4.57) has an even bigger challenge against Tanner Houck (3-2, 2.76), a member of Team USA. Mitchell (4-1, 4.17) rounds out the series for Auburn and he’ll face freshman lefty Michael Plassmeyer (2-2, 5.13).
At the plate Missouri is batting just .253 as a team, but they’re an aggressive team on the base paths with 49 stolen bases on the season. Leading the way is speedy Jake Ring. Tops on the team in average at .321, Ring is 18-21 in stolen bases for the year with an on-base percentage of .457.
Game times for the series are scheduled for 6 p.m. on both Thursday and Friday and 1 p.m. on Saturday. Thursday’s game can be seen on ESPNU with the final two games on SEC Network+.