Auburn, Ala.--When the Auburn Tigers (30-13, 12-6) take the baseball field this weekend against the SEC-leading Mississippi State Bulldogs (29-14, 13-5) AU's coach says his team needs to play like it is an underdog despite being ranked in the Top 10 nationally.
Picked to finish tied for last in the SEC West before the year started, Auburn has turned a roster with 20 new players and a lack of pitching depth into a challenger for not only an SEC title but also a regional host berth.
While things have gone about as well as hoped in Butch Thompson’s second season with the Tigers, the coach said this team has no choice other than keep playing with a chip on its shoulder with another tough challenge coming this weekend at Mississippi State.
“I think we have to continue,” Thompson said. “Rankings are like noise. We’re not the ones saying where we are ranked, we’re not the promotion of that from within. All I know is three of the last four weekends have been on the road playing SEC series. This is a grind for us right now. When Arkansas came in here they were first in the SEC. As we go to Mississippi State they are first in the SEC.
“Our last six SEC games are against the top team in the Southeastern Conference. I think we phrase it more that way. If Keegan Thompson can pitch the ball the way he’s capable, if Davis Daniel can keep competing, if our defense can keep playing good baseball, if our offense can be consistent like we were in game one and game three against Arkansas, we think we can go out and play a good baseball game against anybody.
Davis Daniel is a freshman pitcher for the Tigers.
“We are in a tough stretch and playing at the top of our league back-to-back weekend," Thompson pointed out. "We’re the best we can be with a chip on our shoulder. When we don’t play that style I think any really solid Division I club can have us, have success against us. When we’re locked in and playing good baseball I think we’re very, very competitive.”
Auburn’s starting shortstop, junior Luke Jarvis is a player who has been locked in recently at the plate along with many of his teammates. Coming from a junior college, he said he’s enjoying life in the SEC so far as the Tigers get ready for a big series that means more than anyone could have imagined to start the season.
“It’s just one of those things where I thought we’d be good, but getting ranked up there and Mississippi State being ranked pretty high, I couldn’t have told you it would happen but it’s awesome,” Jarvis said. “Can’t wait for it to happen.
“It seems like every week we’re playing a first place team. It’s definitely that you’re more pumped for that than necessarily the rankings and stuff. You definitely notice it will amp
up your intensity a bit.”
In the hunt for a regional host bid if they can continue to win games down the stretch, the Tigers are looking for another strong weekend in Starkville to strengthen their case. Jarvis said this weekend will give them another notch in their belts if they can come away with a series victory.
“I forget who was saying it but the last time we hosted was 2010 and there were people everywhere and they wanted that again,” Jarvis said. “Coming from junior college where 80 people are at your big game, now it’s a deal where we could sell out and have 4,500 people with the parking deck and whatnot. That’s what makes it fun and guys are certainly pushing for that
regional. That adds some want to it.”
Pitching Rotations: Auburn
Friday: Jr. RHP Keegan Thompson (5-1, 1.48 ERA)
Saturday: Fr. RHP Davis Daniel (3-2, 4.14)
Pitching Rotations: Mississippi State
Friday: So. LHP Konnor Pilkington (4-3, 3.30)
Saturday: So. RHP Cole Gordon (2-0, 4.55)
Sunday: Jr. RHP Jacob Billingsley (1-0, 4.18)
Top Offensive Players: Auburn
OF Jonah Todd (.384, 13 2B, 40 Runs)
OF Daniel Robert (.314, 4 HR, 36 RBI)
Top Offensive Players: Mississippi State
1B Brent Rooker (.403, 17 HR, 61 RBI)
INF Ryan Gridley (5 HR, 32 RBI)
Game Times (CDT):
Friday: 6:30 p.m.
Saturday: 7 p.m. (SEC Network)
Sunday: Noon (SEC Network)