Baseball Tigers Suffer Big Blow

Coach Steve Renfroe says one of Auburn's best hitters is likely done for the season.

Auburn, Ala.--Wednesday night when the Auburn baseball Tigers take on Troy State in Montgomery life will officially start without standout first baseman Karl Amonite. A second-team All-SEC performer last season when he hit .330 with 12 home runs and 56 runs batted in, Amonite has struggled to recover from a bicep injury suffered over the winter and will likely miss the rest of the season according to Coach Steve Renfroe.

"It takes away what I think is one of the best power hitters in the country," Renfroe says. "He proved it last year in the second half. He's just a force that changes everything about the game when somebody is going up against him. He makes it where four times a game he can change things with one swing. He can hit any part of the field on any kind of pitcher. Then it makes the other guys more dangerous because they have to focus on him. It just creates a whole lot of options for us."

"It's a huge hole," Renfroe adds. "He's a great kid. A great leader. A tough kid. The process right now is daily just rehab. Nobody has had an answer to his injury. It's one of those things where it could be two days or two months. There is no way to go. We're at the situation that so much time has gone by. He hasn't swung the bat in weeks and weeks against live pitching. Then you are in the middle of the season trying to catch up. It's a tough deal. Right now we're planning on being without him. We're trying to go about it now as we'll be without him and we'll take our best shots."

Amonite swings for the fences last season.

Now the Tigers move forward with a variety of players taking over the role that Amonite would have held down this season. Both Josh Sullivan and Derek Sain will play first base along with Josh Bell, but it hampers an already thin lineup on the corners because of an earlier injury to projected third baseman Tyler Johnstone. Renfroe says while there is a slight chance Amonite could return, he's not expecting it.

"I don't think Karl wants to be in a situation where he burns a year for just going out there and trying a few at-bats and not sure," Renfroe says. "The only way to do that is probably intra-squad live to see if he can take the punishment for a while. Then you're talking, you're already into the last three or four weeks of the season. Maybe a miracle will happen, but right now we have to move on. We can't keep looking back and we have to make a decision. You just get somebody ready like we've been doing to play there and just fill in and go."

Amonite will now have a decision to make when and if his injured arm gets well enough to start swinging the bat. A junior-college transfer, Amonite will be 22-years old in just a couple of weeks and that begins the age that becomes questionable for many teams to make him a high pick in the MLB Draft. Another year would only make it tougher for teams to pull the trigger on him, but coming back as a fifth-year senior would allow him to get closer to his degree and maybe prove that he's over his injury once and for all. Renfroe says all of that will be decided before next season.

"It's an automatic redshirt year," Renfroe says. "If at the end of the year he hasn't played it's a redshirt. Then if he wants to come back he can. He doesn't have to. We'll evaluate what is best for him after that."

Amonite's injury is only one of many for the Tigers as starting third baseman Ben Maitland has been out for the better part of three weeks since getting an eye irritation that has caused blurry vision and pain at times. He tried to go last Saturday against Clemson, but had to cut short the appearance because of blurry vision. Renfroe says they are hopeful that he'll be able to go this weekend when they face Kentucky and possibly get some action Wednesday night against Troy State.

"Saturday they got to the point they thought they could try it," Renfroe says of the doctors. "The sun and the wind were just too much. We didn't feel it was fair to him for safety reasons to be out there so we took him out. Hopefully tomorrow night being a night game will help and Friday is the same thing. They seem to think it was healing quite nicely and maybe the extra four or five games will get him to that point."

Hobbled, but finding a way to win, seventh-ranked Tigers (16-2) limp into Paterson Field Wednesday night for the 6 p.m. start against Troy State (9-4) looking to keep a hot streak alive. Auburn is 7-0 this season in games decided by two runs or less, something that has been a trademark under Renfroe in his tenure at Auburn. The 16-2 start is the best for an Auburn team since 2001 and a win would be the best start since 1999 when the Tigers opened 22-2.

Senior Colby Paxton (2-1, 3.45 ERA) gets the nod for the Tigers against Todd Nicholas (1-0, 7.08 ERA) for the Trojans. Paxton is expected to pitch just a few innings before giving way to the Auburn bullpen for pitchers such as Chris Dennis, Grant Cardwell and others to get some work before SEC play opens this weekend. Auburn is 29-10 all-time against Troy State and has won eight of the last nine meetings between the two schools.

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