Tigers On The Road To Tangle With Noles

Auburn, Ala.–-For the first time since 1984, the Auburn Tigers and Florida State Seminoles will meet in a regular season baseball game when the two tangle this weekend in Tallahassee for a three-game series at Dick Howser Stadium.

Although the Tigers and Noles have faced each other often since then in NCAA play, too often for many Auburn baseball supporters, this will be the first time that any of the current Tigers will play in front of the big and loud crowds. Coach Tommy Slater said he's looking forward to seeing how his team responds to going on the road to FSU.

"We're excited for the challenge to go down there and play in Tallahassee," Slater said. "I was kind of laughing the other day because someone told me ‘Slates, your guys have never been there.' That just made me laugh because I assumed that if you've been at Auburn you've been at Tallahassee at some point. I just figured all of our guys had been there.

"I have been there for regionals, for super regionals, for mid-week games and for weekend series," Slater added. "Their baseball and administrative staffs do as good of a job at hosting teams as anywhere I've ever been. They are the best. It's a great facility. They've got a very good team. They return a lot of guys off a team last year that went to a super regional."

Currently ranked 14th in the country, Florida State enters the weekend with a record of 6-0 after sweeps over Charleston Southern and VMI. In six games the Seminoles have given up just 14 total runs and Slater said that's the strength of the team although they have some offensive weapons.

"They've got Hunter Jones and Bryan Schultz back in the rotation this weekend," Slater said. "Both of them threw a lot for them last year. They've got some very good hitters. Shane Robinson played a lot last year as a freshman. He's a very athletic, exciting kind of guy at the top of the lineup. He's a lot like Tyler Johnstone. Aaron Cheesman is a fifth-year senior that, believe it or not, I recruited here five years ago and we lost him to Florida State. He has played a lot for them.

"Ryan Malone was a freshman All-American hitter last year. He's a very gifted hitter. In the bullpen they've got Kevin Lynch, Tyler Chambliss and Matt DiBlasi, all experienced guys. They may not have the pop they had a year ago with Stephen Drew and Eddie Martinez Esteve, but Coach Martin has been doing it for a long time and he's one of the best coaches in the country and they are one of the best programs in the country."

Arnold Hughey

A pair of pitchers who didn't start either of the first two weekends, Jones (0-0, 0.00 ERA, 3 IP) and Schultz (0-0, 2.25, 4) will start on Friday and Saturday respectively against senior Arnold Hughey and junior Josh Sullivan for the Tigers. Hughey is 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA in his one start this season while Sullivan got a no-decision after throwing four innings and allowing two earned runs against Hofstra.

Sunday's starters will be sophomore Michael Hyde (1-0, 1.80, 10) for the Noles and sophomore Mike Felix for the Tigers. Felix is 0-0 with a 2.70 ERA in one start this season.

At the plate the Seminoles are led by the speedy Robinson. Hitting .565 with 13 hits and 10 runs scored, Robinson has stolen seven bases in eight attempts. Cheesman is batting .400 with eight hits and leads the team with eight RBI. As a team Florida State has just two home runs in six games and none from an everyday starting position player--quite a change from Seminole teams of the past.

Home runs were a huge part of the game for Auburn in its first series against Hofstra last weekend as both Karl Amonite and Clete Thomas homered to lead the Tigers to a three-game sweep. Amonite homered in both the Friday and Saturday games while Thomas bombed a game-winner in the bottom of the ninth on Sunday to complete the sweep.

Currently, Thomas is hitting .400 with five runs scored, seven runs batted in and a slugging percentage of .800. Amonite is just behind at .364 with two home runs, seven runs batted in and a slugging percentage of .909.

Leading the team in hitting is second baseman Tyler Johnstone. The junior college transfer that missed all of last season because of an arm injury, Johnstone is hitting .500 and leads the team with three stolen bases.

Also hitting well is third baseman Adam Stacey. The junior college transfer is currently at .417 and has driven in four runners in 12 at-bats. Slater said that while his team didn't play perfect baseball in the season opening series, the Tigers did some things well that he hopes will carry over into this weekend.

"Some of the things we did extremely well," Slater said. "We ran the bases great. I was so proud of how hard we ran the bases. We talk to our guys about being aggressive on the base paths and that's not always about how many stolen bases you have. That's taking the extra base when it presents itself, it's reading dirt balls and advancing. An example is Josh Bell. He hits a single to left on Friday night and he reads the throw to the plate and gets to second base. Josh is not a runner and I was really proud of him. I was really happy with the way we ran the bases as a team.

"I was also happy with the way we situationally hit for the weekend," he added. "We did a good job when runners were in scoring position of driving them in. That was real evident the first two days. Sunday is where it won us the game. We had five runs on only five hits. Our guys, once they got on base, we got them to second. We got them over by a deep fly ball or hitting the ball to the right side. Then we had good at-bats to drive them in. I was real happy with our situational hitting.

"I think our defense has to improve," Slater added. "We have to shore that up. We also have to continue to work to get better on the mound."

Game times for the weekend series are 2:30 p.m. on Friday, 1 p.m. on Saturday and noon on Sunday. All times are central. The games can be heard live on the web at www.auburntigers.com.

"It's a great atmosphere to play in," Slater said. "I don't think it's a tough atmosphere to play in. It's a good one. Our guys are used to playing here and we have a great atmosphere here. For Amonite and Johnstone, when the Animals (FSU fan support group) sing ‘O Canada' it ought to make them feel like they're at home."

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