Auburn trails Tennessee by one game heading into the last weekend of the season and with the Vols taking on Florida the Tigers could earn the last spot in the SEC Baseball Tournament with a series win.
That is easier said than done though for a team that has struggled both offensively and on the mound in recent weeks.
Winners of just two of its last 10 games, Auburn has to dig down deep this weekend to find something that hasn't been there since winning the first two games at Alabama on April 16-17. Since that time Auburn has won just three of 13 games in the conference and Coach Steve Renfroe said the mindset this weekend is an obvious one.
"I think you have to look at this weekend like a tournament," Renfroe said. "You have to go after game one with everything you have and go after game two and then you worry about game three when you get there. That was the reasoning. We don't know who we'll use Friday or Saturday and that will be the deciding factor on who throws on Sunday."
For Auburn going after game one means throwing veteran lefty Arnold Hughey on Friday night. With a 6-4 record and an ERA of 4.42 this season, Hughey has been the Tigers' most solid starter this season. He will face off against Clint Brannon for the Hogs. Brannon is 3-2 with a 3.28 ERA in 14 starts this year.
On Saturday Auburn will send preseason All-American Steven Register to the mound in his third start of the season to face right-hander Charley Boyce from Arkansas. Register is 6-0 with a 3.78 ERA this season and also has eight saves. Boyce is the ace for the Hogs with a 7-1 record and a 3.18 earned run average. Sunday both teams are listed as TBA, but Auburn will likely use a combination of John Madden, Josh Bell, Mike Felix, Cory Dueitt and Chris Dennis.
Dennis has been strong for the Tigers in the last month of the season and has moved into the closer role vacated by Register. In his last seven outings, Dennis has given up just one earned run in 12 1/3 innings pitched. For the season Dennis leads Auburn in ERA at 2.83 and has a 4-0 record.
Auburn's pitchers will face a team in Arkansas that has been very solid this season with players capable of beating you up and down the lineup. Despite its record, Arkansas doesn't boast a powerful offensive club, hitting .297 as a team with 40 home runs. Leading the way at the plate is Clay Goodwin with a .331 average, four home runs and 23 runs batted in. Also a potent weapon is Danny Hamblin. Hamblin is hitting .319 with seven home runs and 34 RBI.
For the Tigers success this weekend is imperative to postseason hopes that were considered almost a certainty coming into the year and for much of the season. Picked to finish second in the Western Division, Auburn has battled through injuries and shaky performances, but now faces what coaches sometimes don't like to admit. The Tigers face a win or go home situation.
"They are the team that has led the league most of the year and has been the best team in the league," Renfroe said. "It's a must-win situation if we want to keep some hopes alive of moving on. It will be a tough task. They have a great club and we're at their field, but we have to go and win the series to try to move on. That's what we're up against."
Game times for the weekend series are 7 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday with Sunday's game scheduled for 12:30 p.m. None of the contests will be televised.