Tigers Looking To Make Home Field An Advantage

Auburn looks to continue playing well in the SEC with Mississippi State coming to the Plains for a three-game series.

Auburn, Ala.--Coming off the road may not be the best thing for Auburn this weekend when the Tigers face the Mississippi State Bulldogs in a three-game series at Plainsman Park.

Auburn is 4-4 in series wins on the road this season, but the Tigers (27-12, 8-7 SEC) are hoping to end a two-series losing streak at home when the Bulldogs (24-24, 6-9) come to town. Coach Steve Renfroe said that he feels comfortable with his team no matter where they play and he's ready to see how they respond this weekend.

"I'm not really concerned," Renfroe said. "I'm just glad to be able to have a starting staff that we can run out each time now. That has been kind of nice to do. We're not really concerned with where we play."

While the injury bug has bitten the team all season, the pitching rotation remains intact as Mike Felix, Arnold Hughey and Josh Bell get the call for the Tigers once again this weekend. Felix is 4-4 with a 4.14 ERA and will start on Friday against Mississippi State's Alan Johnson. Johnson is 2-1 with a 5.63 earned run average.

On Saturday, Hughey, who is 6-1 with a 3.90 ERA, takes the mound against MSU's Todd Doolittle. Doolittle is 2-1 with a 4.05 ERA.

Sunday has Bell and his 2-1 record with a 1.52 earned run average up against the Bulldogs' Jeff Lacher. Lacher is 3-5 with a 4.60 earned run average.

Ben Maitland is wearing a brace on his injured ankle, but could play this weekend.

Just like things have been all season, the Tigers come into the series a banged-up team with third baseman Ben Maitland and shortstop Chuck Jeroloman missing practice time this week as well as Tuesday's 10-0 victory over South Alabama. Renfroe said that's just another puzzle piece that adds to the picture of a team that has found a way to win more than it has lost despite the adversity.

"Nobody has given this team a chance," Renfroe said. "You go to Ole Miss and we score six runs and win two games. We go to Alabama and we give up 22 and win two games. We were one-hit and we won a game. We were three-hit and we won a game. We were four-hit. The only thing that I can say is that they show up and play.

"We can't practice right now full out," Renfroe added. "They are in ice. They're in the tubs. This guy can't run, this guy can't throw and this guy can't hit today and yet they show up and play. I think you just have some kids that compete and play hard. It's a fun bunch to be with."

With Maitland out the door has been opened for sophomore Kyle Mayo. The Vestavia Hills product has been solid since last Friday's series opener against Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Coming into last weekend Mayo was just 1-16 on the year, but that changed against the Crimson Tide. Mayo had two big hits in Friday ‘s win and added another on Saturday.

Mayo also had a hit on Tuesday night to continue his solid hitting. Renfroe said that Mayo's play does give him some options at third if Maitland's sprained ankle continues to give him problems.

The Bulldogs are led at the plate by two polar opposites in Jeffrey Rea and Brad Corley. Rea is hitting .358 with one home run, 21 runs batted in and 11 doubles. Corley leads the team in home runs with 13, runs batted in with 41 and is second on the team in average at .357. MSU has a team batting average of .313 this season with 36 home runs and 24 stolen bases.

On the mound the Bulldogs have been very inconsistent this season with a team ERA of 4.24 and just four saves, all coming from closer Saunders Ramsey. Ramsey leads the team with a 1.82 ERA, a 4-1 record and has struck out 35 batters and walked just six in 29 2/3 innings this season. Also tough is reliever Brett Cleveland. He is 1-0 with a 2.95 earned run average in 11 appearances this season. On the roster there are 12 pitchers who have more that six appearances this season.

Just like every weekend in the SEC, Auburn will need to pitch well or swing the bat better than the Tigers normally do to come away with a series victory. Renfroe said that it's about time his team had one of those stretches where everything falls into place. There would be no better time than this weekend for that to happen with Auburn battling to stay in the race in the SEC West.

"This team has not been hot in any way," Renfroe said. "If we do we'll be pretty good. If our pitchers got really hot they're really capable of being real good. I think the team, if they got hot hitting, we know what Tug (Hulett) can do and we know what Chuck can do and Sean (Gamble) and Clete (Thomas) and Bell. I think we would be pretty good if that happens."

Game times for the weekend are 6:30 on Friday night, 3 p.m. on Saturday and 1:30 p.m. on Sunday. Sunday's game will be shown live on Comcast Sports Southeast.

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