Tough Task Waiting For Tigers At South Carolina

Auburn, Ala.–-Auburn looks to keep its SEC Tournament hopes alive this weekend as the Tigers travel to <A HREF=>South Carolina</A> to face the Gamecocks in a three-game series at Sarge-Frye Field in Columbia, a spot where the Tigers have not had much success.

Auburn is 26-17 overall, 8-10 in SEC play, while South Carolina is 30-10 and 10-8 in conference action.

The Tigers head to Columbia looking to get out of the cellar in the Western Division while the Gamecocks hope to keep pace with the Florida Gators in the east. Both teams struggled last weekend, South Carolina losing two of three at Alabama while the Tigers were swept at home to Florida. Auburn Coach Tommy Slater said that while his team didn't have success last weekend he's happy with the way the team continues to battle every time out.

"One thing I have really enjoyed about this club is that our guys' approach and the way we go about business has been the exact same every day," Slater said. "Our kids have played hard all year long. They never hang their heads.

"Certainly, being swept at home by Florida was disappointing. Florida is a very talented and well-coached ball club. We were disappointed to lose three obviously, but we came out and the kids played extremely hard and well against Samford. The one constant for this club is that our kids have come out ready to play every single day."

First baseman Karl Amonite has homered in his last two games and appears to be back in the groove after a struggle to open SEC play.

One team Auburn has consistently had trouble beating in the past has been South Carolina. Since 1998 the Tigers are just 3-15 against the Gamecocks with two of the victories coming in the last two seasons. It has been since 1997 that Auburn defeated South Carolina in a series and Slater said even that year things were unusually difficult in the Friday game as the Gamecocks won 17-3 against a pretty good Auburn pitcher.

"When I was an assistant here I know that we played South Carolina and I think they beat us in one-run games nine in a row," Slater said. "They are the only team I ever saw that hit Tim Hudson, in 1997 there to open the series. We've just had a lot of great ball games with them over the years while I was an Auburn assistant. They came out on top in a lot of those. I don't know how to put the finger on it."

This season the Gamecocks have struggled lately, losing four of their past six games. Still USC is one of the top teams in the SEC and the nation because of a strong and balanced offensive attack and solid pitching.

Leading the way at the plate is Jon Willard at .353 with six home runs and 27 runs batted in. The power comes from all throughout the lineup, but Steve Pearce provides the most punch with his .343 average, 12 home runs and 36 RBI.

As a team the Gamecocks have 50 home runs and 87 doubles, which shows their power, however Slater said there is more to USC than just power.

"They are really good," Slater said of the Gamecocks. "They do have good power up and down the lineup. A lot of that has to do with their ballpark. It's the smallest park in the SEC, and they are fly ball hitters. They try to lift and get it up there and if you're going to play in that ballpark that's what you should do.

"In addition to that they've got Davy Gregg and Chris Brown, a couple of guys who can really run. They've got a couple of guys in there, (Steven) Tolleson as well, that run pretty well...they're good. They are well coached and they play hard."

Coach Tom Slater

On the mound the Friday and Saturday matchups are all set, but Sunday is listed as TBA by both teams. Friday night will see Auburn's Arnold Hughey take on Aaron Rawl in one of the best duels in the league. Hughey enters with a record of just 3-4, but has an ERA of just 3.99 in 70 innings this season. Rawl is 7-3 with an earned run average of just 3.14. He has given up 75 hits, but just 23 earned runs in 66 innings.

Saturday junior Josh Sullivan gets the ball for the Tigers against Zac McCamie for the Gamecocks. Sullivan is 6-4 with a 4.14 ERA this season while McCamie has been spectacular with a record of 8-2 and an ERA of just 2.22 in 73 innings. He has given up just 54 hits and has struck out 79 batters this season.

Out of the bullpen reliever Brent Marsh leads the way with nine saves and an ERA of just 1.80 in 20 innings this season. He has allowed just 13 hits and has struck out 22 while walking only seven.

Game times for the weekend are 6 p.m. on Friday, 3 p.m. on Saturday and 12:30 p.m. on Sunday. All times are central. There is no television for the weekend.

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