Tigers Hope To Keep Yellow Jackets Grounded

Auburn, Ala.--Some positive early season energy and press will be on the line Tuesday night at Plainsman Park when the ninth-ranked Auburn Tigers (9-1) take on the 13th-ranked Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (6-3) in a matchup that will have major billing in the college baseball world.

The Tigers are coming off a weekend sweep of Hofstra while the Yellow Jackets are barely buzzing after losing three games on a trip to California.

Taking part in the Kia Baseball Bash in Fullerton, Calif., the Yellow Jackets came in on a roll at 6-0, but didn't play well in losses to USC, Cal. State Fullerton and Oklahoma. In three games Georgia Tech scored just five runs while giving up 22. Despite having a team loaded with offensive potential, the Yellow Jackets amassed just 16 hits for the weekend and are a team looking for some offensive spark heading into Tuesday's contest.

Leading the team in hitting through the first nine games is veteran Brandon Boggs with a .375 average and only two other players are over .300. Names like Eric Patterson (.324), Cliff Remole (.343), Jeremy Slayden, Tyler Green and Micah Owings make up a potentially potent Georgia Tech lineup.

One of the biggest surprises has been the powerful Mike Nickeas struggling at the plate so far this season. After leading the team last season with a .333 average, the junior is hitting just .103 with three hits in 29 at-bats this season. If the Yellow Jackets remain cold at the plate the Tigers stand a good chance of coming away with the victory.

Georgia Tech is expected to start either freshman John Goodman or junior Nick Wagner against the Tigers Tuesday night. Both have perfect 0.00 earned run averages this season in six appearances, mostly in relief. Wagner doesn't have a decision in his career, but has 29 appearances, all in relief.

Auburn's 9-1 start is its best open to a season since winning its first 13 games of 2001 and much of the reason for that has been strong relief pitching and the offense of the two Joshes in Josh Sullivan and Josh Bell. A sophomore who decided on Sunday to play only baseball instead of devoting time to football this spring, Sullivan hit .637 (7-for-11) last week with four runs scored, two doubles, one home run and eight runs batted in. For the year Sullivan is hitting .500 with four doubles in only 20 at-bats. Bell is currently fourth in hitting at .359 and leads the team in home runs with four and runs batted in with 13.

Clete Thomas

A change in the lineup worked to perfection and appears to have taken hold as Clete Thomas was inserted into the leadoff spot last weekend with Ben Sprague in the two hole. The duo responded with big weekends and may have solidified the top of the lineup for the Tigers along with Tug Hulett in the third spot. Thomas hit leadoff for Auburn last weekend and produced, hitting .462 (6-for-13) with eight runs, two doubles and a .533 on-base percentage. For the year Thomas is hitting .351. Sprague has moved his average up to .385 after a strong weekend and hit his first career home run against Hofstra on Sunday.

On the mound for the Tigers will be junior Arnold Hughey, making his fourth career start against Georgia Tech. This season Hughey is 2-0 with a 4.20 ERA in three starts. He has given up 14 hits and seven runs in 15 innings this season while striking out 16 batters.

The first pitch for Tuesday's game is scheduled for 6 p.m. and tickets are $10 for the showdown. They can be purchased at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum during the day and at the ticket office at Plainsman Park prior to the first pitch.

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