Tigers Looking To Keep Streak Going Against VCU

Auburn, Ala.–-Winners of six straight, the Auburn baseball Tigers continue a stretch of tough games this weekend when they take on the Virginia Commonwealth Rams for a three-game series at Plainsman Park.

A perennial NCAA Tournament team, VCU enters this weekend with a record of 9-2 overall while the Tigers are 10-1 and ranked ninth in the country. Coach Steve Renfroe says that once again his team is going to be tested by some strong arms for the Rams.

"They'll throw a first rounder against us on Friday night and he's really, really good," Renfroe says of junior pitcher Justin Orenduff. "We saw him last year. That was the game they came back and beat us. We only scored two runs off him. He's projected first round by everybody and he's outstanding.

"They have a very good closer they are proud of (Harold Mozingo). They'll probably win their league. They are picked to win it and be in a regional. They've been right there a couple of times from advancing and they are always in Baton Rouge. It's going to be a good test for us for three days."

A dominating right-hander, Orenduff is a power pitcher with the ability to throw any of three pitches at any time during the count. The Friday starter squaring off against Auburn's Cory Dueitt (1-0, 0.61 ERA), Orenduff is 1-0 with a 1.53 ERA in three starts this season. In 17 2/3 innings he has allowed just 10 hits while striking out 20 hitters. Saturday has Auburn's Mike Felix (1-0, 3.75) against Cla Meredith (1-0, 1.29) as the feature matchup on the mound. Meredith has thrown just seven innings this season and allowed just one run.

Sunday's starting matchup has junior lefty Arnold Hughey for the Tigers against Matt Prendergast for VCU. Hughey is 3-0 with a 3.43 ERA this season while Prendergast is 2-0 with a 2.93 earned run average. This season Hughey has struck out 24 hitters in 21 innings and allowed just 20 hits and eight earned runs. Renfroe says that his last outing against Georgia Tech was as good as he's seen from Hughey in the last year and he hopes it's something to build on this season.

"I was watching film and the thing that was interesting is how aggressive he was and feeling like he can throw where he wants to," Renfroe says. "He was a different guy. There was so much more effort there mentally, you could just see him getting after pitches and throwing in on guys and not letting up. He got in two little jams and he never waivered.

"I think you can build on that. He had a lot of strikeouts, but he didn't walk anybody. He maintained his stuff farther into the game than he has in the last year or so. That's probably what he realizes and that kind of confidence you can really take and run with it. I'm excited to see how he comes out this weekend."

At the plate the Rams are led by Joe Meador and Anthony Granato. In 39 at-bats this season Meador is hitting .462 with one home run, three doubles, five triples and 12 runs batted in. Granato is just behind with an average of .405 in 37 at-bats with two doubles, three triples and 13 runs batted in. As a team the Rams are hitting .339 and have scored 97 runs in 11 games. A gap team, they have hit 21 doubles, 12 triples and just two home runs.

While showing a little more power, Auburn is essentially the same kind of team as VCU so far this season with flashes of power mixed in. First baseman/DH Josh Sullivan leads the way at the plate for the Tigers with an average of .458 in 24 at-bats. He has a team-high five doubles, one home run and nine runs batted in. Right behind him is Tug Hulett, who is hitting .371 with three doubles and RBI. Hulett has an on-base percentage of .558 this season and has drawn a team-high 12 walks, double that of any teammate.

The player that has been the surprise for the Tigers at the plate and in the field has been right fielder Ben Sprague. A junior college transfer, Sprague missed much of the fall with an injury and entered the season as the back-up to J.T. Williamson. That has changed as Sprague is hitting .367 with one home run and seven RBI in 30 at-bats and has two stolen bases. Renfroe says his combination of speed and power make him a good fit for the Tigers in the two-hole behind leadoff hitter Clete Thomas and Hulett.

"He missed the whole fall so we really didn't know what we had," Renfroe says. "He's still behind and we're still trying to work on some things. We have a long way to go as a team offensively. We really have some improvement to do there, but he brings an aggressiveness in right field and a good arm. He can run and we're hitting him in the two spot. He has some strength.

"He's a guy that I think will be able to bunt for us and yet if he gets one he can hit it out of the park. That's a little different. He's strong enough to hit some doubles and maybe some triples. That's going to be good for us because it allows us to hit Tug (Tug Hulett) three and when Karl (Karl Amonite) comes back hit him four. That really pushes the lineup down where we like it."

Out since early in January after straining his bicep tendon, Amonite has yet to return to the Auburn lineup and it could be weeks before that happens Renfroe says. Despite feeling better, the time off has put Amonite behind and Renfroe is hopeful to get the powerful slugger back before SEC play begins March 19 at home against Kentucky.

"Once he's loose we'll get Mike Goodlett over here and he and I will watch him swing off the tee and see what it looks like," Renfroe says of Amonite's practice routine. "After that it's going to be ‘what is tomorrow like?' If it's not a major setback then each day we can kind of extend it and go to soft-toss. Hopefully batting practice in the next 10 days and get a feel for his situation, but we have to make a decision soon."

Game times for the VCU series are scheduled for 3 p.m. on Friday, 1 p.m. on Saturday with Auburn men's basketball at home against LSU starting at 3 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. on Sunday afternoon.

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