"When we went up there my freshman year I was young and it was my first road trip," junior Sean Gamble said. "They had three All-Americans in the lineup and I think they might have been rated number one in the country. It was a good experience. It was a hostile environment and prepares you well for what you see in the conference."
Sean Gamble is hitting .286 with six doubles, one triple and 13 runs batted in this season.
Along with Tug Hulett and Chuck Jeroloman, Gamble is one of the Tigers that had their first experience that fateful weekend in Clemson. Despite playing well, Auburn came home after losing 7-4, 8-5 and 6-3. Gamble said that despite not winning a game it was an important weekend for his team and will be the same for all the newcomers on this year's team that are playing key roles for the Tigers.
"It's very big," Gamble said. "It's just like a conference game, but it doesn't count in the standings. They have the same talent or maybe more talent than we do and they have as many and maybe more arms than we do. It will be a good experience all the way around."
These two teams are no strangers to each other as they have played seven times the past two seasons, including a match-up last season in the NCAA Regional at Plainsman Park. An elimination game for both teams, Auburn pounded Clemson 15-0 before losing to Ohio State in the final game on Sunday.
This time around Clemson is still searching for some answers as they enter the contest with a record of 4-5 and ranked 25th in the country after losing twice to rival South Carolina last weekend. Despite that the Clemson Tigers are a talented team with veterans and experience up and down the lineup. Gamble said that although Clemson is a good team, Auburn is going up there to win and build more momentum heading into SEC play.
"We're just planning to take each game seriously and win each game," Gamble said. "They're still ranked in the Top-25 and we need to take the victories in that column for down the road. We just have to treat this one like a conference series."
While Gamble and the Auburn offense are one of the reason's why the Tigers are riding high at the moment, much of the credit goes to a pitching staff that has been superb for much of the season. In 15 games Auburn opponents are hitting just .209 and the Tigers have a team ERA of just 2.91. When you have numbers like those it stands to reason that the starting staff would be getting the job done and that has been the case lately for Coach Steve Renfroe's club.
The trio of Cory Dueitt, Arnold Hughey and Mike Felix have combined to go 7-0 this season and have allowed just 19 earned runs combined in 64 2/3 innings. Dueitt has been particularly impressive with a 2-0 record and an earned run average of just 1.74 this season in six appearances. He will face Clemson's Jason Berken on Friday. Berken is 1-1 with a 4.50 ERA.
Steven Register is Auburn's stopper in the bullpen.
Saturday Hughey (3-0, 3.46 ERA) will square off against tough lefty Tyler Lumsden for Clemson. Lumsden is 0-0 with a 3.75 ERA. Sunday has Auburn's Felix (2-0, 2.50 ERA) on the mound while Clemson remains undecided. In his last two starts totaling 11 innings, Felix has not allowed a run.
The bullpen has been equally effective as closer Steven Register and relievers Michael Nix, John Madden, Chris Dennis, Colby Paxton and Grant Cardwell have been outstanding this season. Register leads the way with a 3-0 record and one save and an ERA of just 1.59.
At the plate sophomore Josh Sullivan continues to be the measuring stick with an average of .400. He is tied for second on the team with two home runs and five doubles and has 10 runs batted in this season. He has struggled lately though with just four hits in his last 15 at-bats since giving up football to concentrate solely on baseball.
Leadoff man Clete Thomas has been on fire for the Tigers since moving into the role and is second on the team in hitting at .382 and leads the team in runs scored (18), stolen bases (nine) and hits (21). Right behind him is second baseman Tug Hulett with a .333 average, five doubles and 12 runs batted in. Hulett broke a streak of 15 consecutive games reaching base when he failed to accomplish the feat in Tuesday's win over Troy State.
Some good new is that third baseman Ben Maitland practiced this week and may be available to play against Clemson after having an eye injury just over one week ago. Maitland was hitting .275 with two triples and nine runs batted in before his injury. First baseman Karl Amonite remains out, but is shooting for a return the next weekend when the Tigers take on Kentucky to open the SEC schedule.
Game times for this weekend's series with Clemson are 3 p.m on Friday and 1 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday. Sunday's contest can be seen live on Comcast Sports Southeast.