Auburn Coach Has Respect For Next Opponent

Auburn, Ala.–-Elon is a name most casual college baseball fans aren't familiar with, but Auburn coach Tommy Slater has no problems in calling them a quality opponent.

The Tigers (9-2) will take on Elon (6-3) this weekend for a three-game series at Plainsman Park and Slater said that his team better be prepared to play well or they'll be in trouble.

"Elon is a very good team," Slater says. "They gave Georgia everything they wanted last week. We talked to the Georgia coaches this morning and they said they would have been happy with getting two out of three. They got the sweep, but they said Elon was very good. They're a good offensive club and their starting pitching is good, too. You get different looks each day.

Friday night you get a soft righty (Lance Cole, 2-1, 4.50 ERA) that really mixes his curveball and change-up very well," Slater adds. "Saturday we'll see a power righty (Matt McSwain, 1-0, 2.92) that has a real good arm. Sunday we'll see kind of a conventional guy (Ryan Basham, 1-1, 0.63), mid-80s with a good breaking ball.

"It's a very good Elon team and very well coached. They've already been at Georgia and played some ACC schools. I have as much respect for them as any team up there. I think it's critically important for us to, each weekend, play good people because it's going to make us better come time to play in the league."

Arnold Hughey will get the Friday start for the Tigers.

On the mound the Tigers will send out the same starting rotation for the second consecutive weekend. Friday night senior Arnold Hughey will get the ball looking to get the weekend off to a good start. This season he is 2-1 with a 2.70 ERA in 16 2/3 innings pitched.

Saturday former quarterback Josh Sullivan is throwing. Sullivan is 1-0 with a 1.69 ERA in 16 innings and has allowed just one run in his last two outings.

Sunday Arizona State transfer Josh Blake gets his second start. Currently he's 1-0 with an 8.44 ERA, having allowed five earned runs in six innings this season. Slater says that he's been pleased with the progression of Blake on the mound after getting a slow start to the spring due to an injury.

"The other day I thought he threw really well," Slater says of Blake. "He had some gorks (bloop hits) early in the first inning. They didn't hit it hard, but got jammed and got some hits. Just like in Tallahassee you could see him hit the wall and Arnie hit the wall too at 75 pitches. We've got to get him up and the problem with him is that he can't run because he's got a bad back. We've got the elliptical (exercise machine) over here for him. We ran Blake all week to try to get his legs in shape for the game.

"The thing I love about Josh is that he's just a competitor, he wants to be on the mound. He's not afraid and he's going to say, ‘here it is, hit it.' I think you saw some of that out of Grant Cardwell the other night and Jared Shore and John Madden and Michael Nix and even Sully (Sullivan) and all of our pitchers. I've been pleased with all of those guys."

At the plate the Tigers are led by the strong presence of senior first baseman Karl Amonite. The fifth-year player is hitting .447 with five home runs, six doubles and 18 runs batted in. All of those are tops on the team in addition to his 10 walks.

Center fielder Bruce Edwards has been the biggest surprise to this point, hitting .432 with four RBI and four stolen bases. Edwards leads the way this season with seven multi-hit games in 11 contests.

Karl Amonite is a key for the Tiger attack.

A player who missed all of the 2004 season with an injury, second baseman Tyler Johnstone, has had a good start this year, hitting .417 with a team-high 20 hits and five stolen bases. Johnstone is second on the team in runs scored with 15, two behind center fielder Clete Thomas. Coming on strong in the last week, Thomas has his average up to .326 and is second on the team in home runs with two and doubles with five.

Some good news for the Tigers is that catcher/outfielder Joey Huskins is set to make his debut as an Auburn Tiger in this weekend's series. The 6-3, 193 Huntington, Calif., native broke his hand on the first day of spring practice and took his first live swings during Thursday's practice. Slater says that he should give Auburn some help when he eventually returns behind the plate, something that is still probably one week away because of the pounding a hand takes catching a game.

"He's to that point no to where it's a pain tolerance thing," Slater notes. "If he can stand it then he'll get a chance to play this weekend. He won't be able to catch, he' probably a week away from that, but he can also play in the outfield for us. He's a very versatile kid. He also has the potential to DH for us if we needed another left-handed bat in the lineup.

"Once we can get Joey back full strength and able to catch then obviously he and Josh Bell will start splitting the time catching. I think it makes for both of them to be better catchers when you have guys that can spell each other. When you've got to catch every day it will wear on you a little bit. Once he's able to get going he'll be catching a lot."

The injury bug continues to linger around the Tigers though as starting shortstop Phillip Stringer pulled his groin in the win over VCU last Sunday and didn't play in Tuesday's win over Troy. Slater says he's doubtful for the weekend and that if he doesn't play then the lineup will continue with Adam Stacey moving to shortstop from third base and true freshman Josh Donaldson starting at third. Slater says that Donaldson is making progress and is capable of making some big plays down the road for the Tigers.

"Josh has worked very hard," Slater says. "We talk to our guys about going about their business the right way and preparing themselves to play. Josh has done that. He gets his ground balls every day. He takes his batting practice every day. Plus, he has to go get mound work and his bullpens in. We've asked a lot of him as a young guy, pulled him in a bunch of different directions.

"The thing I like about Josh is that he's into every game. He stands right next to me all game long. He asks questions and notices things and talks about the game. We talk the game. We'll be on offense and he'll say, ‘Coach, what would you throw this guy right here?' Sometimes I have to tell him to shut up, but he's a good kid and he's worked hard."

Game times for the weekend series are 4 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday and a 1 p.m. scheduled start on Sunday.

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