This weekend the Tigers (28-19, 9-12) take on the hot Ole Miss Rebels led by standout hitter and pitcher Stephen Head. The Rebels have won nine of their last 10 games and come in with an overall record of 32-13 with a 12-9 conference mark. Auburn Coach Tommy Slater said that there is no doubt this is a good Ole Miss team coming to Plainsman Park this weekend because they were expected to be one of the league's best before the season began.
"Florida is in first place right now and Ole Miss is two games back," Slater said. "At the beginning of the year I know Ole Miss was picked in the Top 10 in the country. They're very talented and if you look at the names it is the same names that were playing for them a year ago, the same pitchers. I think (Matt) Maloney is the one new guy. It's the same guys. They are a very talented club."
Arnold Hughey gets the call for Auburn in Friday night's opener.
Offensively Head is the top power guy with 15 home runs and a batting average of .317. The top hitter overall is big Brian Pettway, who is hitting .414 with 11 home runs and 44 runs batted in. He leads the team with 72 hits and 18 doubles. Also dangerous is Mark Wright, who is hitting .346 with 11 home runs and 36 RBI. As a team Ole Miss is hitting .319 with 57 home runs and 103 doubles.
On the mound the Rebels have been equally as dominant with Maloney leading the charge. The junior left-hander is 5-1 this season with a minuscule 1.83 ERA in 68 2/3 innings. He has given up just 50 hits while striking out 73. He's expected to be the Saturday starter for the Rebels. Friday night Mark Holliman gets the call for Coach Mike Bianco. Holliman is 5-1 with an ERA of 4.71. Sunday junior lefty Eric Fowler (3-2, 3.52) will be on the mound for Ole Miss.
For Auburn Friday night is set with senior Arnold Hughey on the mound once again. This season he is 4-4 overall, but his ERA of 3.66 is outstanding. He has walked just 11 in 76 innings this season while striking out 68. Saturday junior Josh Sullivan will be on the mound for Auburn. Sullivan is 6-4 with a 3.82 earned run average. Sunday Auburn is listed as TBA on the mound although freshman Cliff Mullins is likely to get the ball. Mullins is 1-1 with a 3.13 ERA.
While Auburn hosts Ole Miss, Arkansas takes on Florida and Mississippi State plays Alabama. Unless Vanderbilt falls apart the last three weekends of the season then the Tigers, Hogs and Bulldogs will be fighting for the last remaining spot in the SEC Tournament. Slater said his team is just going to focus on playing hard and things will eventually fall into place.
"They're all of equal importance," Slater said. "As far as selection committees and things like that, I think they look at all of your games and the quality of your opponents throughout the year. This club is just focused day to day of coming out each day and competing and play as hard as they can. I think that is what has been fun about this group. Every day they have come out and competed hard. Certainly we're going to do that in these last nine games.
"All we've told our guys is to ‘continue what you're doing and play hard every time out and you've competed your butts off every time out, you've put yourselves in position to win a number of times. Just keep doing that and keep the same approach day to day and things will take care of themselves'. I don't think there's any secret formulas other than coming out and playing hard. Fortunately for us through the course of this season that's something this team has done every day."
Game times for the weekend series are 7 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday to accommodate final exams on the Auburn campus. Sunday's game is scheduled to begin a 1 p.m.