A banged-up team with several key players out of action, Coach Steve Renfroe says his Tigers will be in for a major battle against a talented and experienced Big East foe this weekend.
"They have eight returning starters and their pitchers," Renfroe says. "They have their top two guys, a first-rounder and what I hear is going to be a good drafted left-hander. They are very confident. They probably know more of what they want to do because of that. They won a lot of games last year. They are picked second in their league and probably feel this is their chance for a championship and a regional.
" It will be a very good test, especially without Karl (Karl Amonite). It just changes everything that we do. I think Chuck (Chuck Jeroloman) will be back, which will help, but we'll have to scrap and defend."
Already without projected starting third baseman Tyler Johnstone because of an injury to his right bicep, the Tigers have been dealt serious blows early in the season with injuries to Amonite and Jeroloman. Auburn's top power threat, Amonite has been out of action since the beginning of the spring with a strained bicep tendon and soreness in his forearm because of that. Jeroloman strained a muscle in his back during last Saturday's win over Western Carolina, but should return to the lineup this weekend. Amonite says that his injury has improved and his outlook is much better than it was just a few weeks ago.
"Everyday it's getting better," Amonite says of his injury. "I'm starting to field ground balls and starting to take cuts, not full cuts but enough to get my swing back into a rhythm. I'm looking at some live pitching from the Iron Mike we have in the batting cages. I'm just rehabbing it every day and it's getting better constantly. This weekend I'm not going to be playing. They want to wait until I'm 100 percent, which is coming around the bend and going to be very soon. Hopefully, by the next series here at home I'll be playing."
Without Amonite in the lineup the Tigers will continue to platoon both Josh Sullivan and freshman Mike Felix at first base. That's in addition to Felix being in the starting pitching rotation for the Tigers. Last weekend Felix opened the season on the mound, but this weekend junior left-hander Arnold Hughey will get that honor. After a stellar performance last weekend when he gave up just three hits and no runs in six innings, Hughey will face senior Matt O'Donnell from BC. Last year O'Donnell was 4-4 with a 2.83 ERA in eight starts.
Saturday could be one of the top pitching match-ups of the season with senior Colby Paxton on the hill opposed by BC's Kevin Shepard. Paxton is 1-0 on the season with a 0.00 ERA while Shepard is expected to be a high draft choice after his 2003 season when he was 8-3 with a 2.44 ERA. He is rated as the 10th-best prospect in the Big East this season.
On Sunday Felix (0-0, 12.00 ERA) will square off with the pre-season Big East Conference Pitcher of the Year Chris Lambert. The junior right-hander was 8-2 last season with an ERA of just 2.71 in 13 starts. He struck out 88 batters in just 79 2/3 innings while and allowed just 61 hits.
"They are outstanding," Auburn second baseman Tug Hulett says of BC's pitching staff. "I think the biggest difference is just going to be their velocity. Western didn't really have anybody that could gas you up and I think that played into some of our new guys' success. I think going into this weekend we're going to have to stick to an approach because that's what we do. We have an approach and if we can stick with that and get after them early it could grind on them because they are the ones traveling.
"This is their first time to be outside this year. The biggest thing is going to be us taking the game to them and being aggressive. That will pay dividends. If we can get their starters out of the game that plays into our strengths."
Last season the Eagles finished 33-21 overall and finished fifth in the Big East. They are led at the plate by junior outfielder Drew Locke. A preseason all-conference selection, Locke hit .354 with four home runs and 29 runs batted in last season.
The Tigers will be led at the plate by newcomer Ben Maitland. Auburn's lead-off hitter and third baseman, the sophomore hit .545 last weekend and had at least two hits in each of the three games last weekend. Sophomore catcher Josh Bell is Auburn's power supply, with two home runs and five runs batted in so far this season.
Game times for the weekend are 3 p.m. on Friday and Saturday with Sunday's contest scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m. due to travel arrangements for the Eagles.