"Confident" Tigers Travel To Mississippi State

Auburn, Ala.-–Despite mid-week losses to Samford and <A HREF=http://georgiatech.Scout.com>Georgia Tech</A> the last two weeks, the 16th-ranked (Collegiate Baseball) Auburn Tigers head into this weekend's series at 24th-ranked <A HREF=http://mississippistate.Scout.com>Mississippi State</A> (18-7, 4-4) a confident team after winning series at <A HREF=http://louisianastate.Scout.com>LSU</A> and against <A HREF=http://arkansas.Scout.com>Arkansas</A> the last two weekends.

Currently 5-4 in SEC play and 21-11 overall, the Tigers are looking to win their third consecutive series in league play and Coach Tommy Slater said his team is in good spirits heading to Starkville.

"Anytime you win series in the SEC it's huge and it's important," Slater said. "Our guys are playing with confidence. They believe in themselves. They're playing with great poise.

"I'm been very proud of how our guys are going about their business every single day in the wins and the losses," Slater adds. "They come to work every day and they're ready to go. No matter what the score is they always feel like they're going to win the game. You can just see it in the way they play."

One area of concern for the team recently has been starting pitching. Auburn's pitching rotation is still up in the air for the weekend and that likely won't change until Sunday as Slater and his staff search for an answer to problems in the final game on the mound.

Friday night veteran Arnold Hughey will take the hill against Alan Johnson from MSU. Hughey is 3-2 with a 3.51 ERA this season while Johnson enters with a record of 1-3 and a 4.08 earned run average.

Saturday Josh Sullivan gets the call for the Tigers against Todd Doolittle. Sullivan is 5-2 with a 3.04 ERA while Doolittle is 3-2 with a 3.34 earned run average.

Auburn catcher Josh Bell has been hot in SEC play this season.

While the Bulldogs are solid on Sunday with Jon Crosby (4-1, 3.38 ERA) on the hill, the same can't be said of the Tigers. Junior college transfer Josh Blake has started all three Sunday games in SEC play, but has struggled in those outings. That was especially the case against Arkansas last weekend when he allowed five runs in the first inning to put the Tigers in a huge hole.

Tuesday night against Georgia Tech may have been a sign of things to come for the Tigers as a combination of pitchers put together a solid game, holding the Yellow Jackets to just three runs. One of the pitchers was Blake, who came out of the bullpen to pitch well. Slater said that he is taking a wait and see attitude for Sunday because it's going to depend on how games one and two turn out.

"We're going to try to win Friday and Saturday and then just we'll see who hasn't pitched and who is available at that point," Slater said. "I was very proud of Josh Blake coming in out of the bullpen in some left on left situations...I'm not ruling out that he won't be the Sunday starter. It's just a matter of we're going into the weekend now and we know who our first two guys are. We like our bullpen and we're not going to weaken our bullpen by taking somebody out of it and making them a Sunday starter. We'll try to win Friday and Saturday and take a look at pitch counts, where everybody at going into Sunday, and make a determination then."

What has been good for the Tigers has been the pitching of Jared Shore, John Madden and Michael Nix out of the bullpen this season. The trio is a combined 8-1 this season with 12 saves in 57 appearances. In 108 combined innings pitched they have walked just nine hitters while striking out 79.

At the plate Karl Amonite continues to lead the way with a .408 average, five home runs and 38 runs batted in, but catcher Josh Bell is quickly making a run at the team RBI lead after two strong weeks at the plate. The junior has his average up to .302 with five home runs and 35 runs batted in. His play has strengthened the middle of the Auburn batting order and the result has been better play out of the Tigers.

The depth of this team is also becoming important as players such as Ben Sprague, Jeff Boutwell, Joey Huskins, Josh Donaldson and Phillip Stringer have all contributed in clutch situations in previous games. Slater said that while this isn't the most talented Auburn team he's seen, it's a team that doesn't quit and plays hard until the end.

"In 1997 and 1999 we went to Baton Rouge with extremely talented baseball teams and just go the crap beat out of us," Slater said. "This team, it doesn't seem like anything phases them. They are just very calm and mature in their approach. I like the way these guys go about their day-to-day stuff.

"I know I sound like a broken record because I've said that a million times, but whether it's practice or a game day or pregame practice, they bring a work ethic and an attitude to it that has been tremendous. I think that carries over into the games."

Game times for the weekend series are 6:30 on Friday night, 3 p.m. on Saturday and 1:30 on Sunday afternoon. Saturday's game will be televised by Fox SportsNet South live.

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