With the outcome affecting postseason plans for both teams it doesn't get any bigger than this, Auburn Coach Tommy Slater says.
"We're very excited and look forward to the series with Alabama," Slater adds. "Our kids look forward to the challenge of playing a very well-coached and very good Alabama team. We know they've got tremendous depth on their pitching staff and they've been swinging the bats also. It should be an exciting series as always with Alabama and we're really looking forward to the challenge."
While the Alabama series in itself is big, it takes on even greater importance for the Tigers this weekend as they come into Friday's game with a 12-15 record in SEC play and in 10th position overall. The top eight teams make the trip to Hoover for the SEC Tournament and that's where Slater says he wants his team to be following the weekend, but it won't make these games any bigger than they already are because of who the opponent is in the other dugout.
"Every series is important," Slater says. "Obviously Auburn-Alabama is always bigger than any series, regardless of the time of year, just because it's Auburn and Alabama. Anybody that has been in this knows that. We're excited and looking forward to it.
"We're in a position where, obviously, we feel we need to win this series to put ourselves in a position to be in Hoover. Do we approach things differently? No, the approach will be the same. We'll go out and focus on each pitch, one at a time, and play hard. We'll go about our business the right way. Everyone knows when Auburn and Alabama plays there's huge importance, but we also know the importance of it for us making Hoover."
Alabama comes into the weekend series needing just one victory to wrap up a spot in Hoover, but also chasing the overall title in the Western Division and the second seed in the SEC Tournament. Just one game behind LSU in the division at 15-12, the Crimson Tide has gotten this far behind a strong pitching staff led by starters Wade LeBlanc, Brandon Belcher and T.J. Large. While Large is questionable this weekend because of some arm problems, Slater says they more than make up for him if he's not able to go.
"LeBlanc is really good," Slater says. "I thought last year that was as good of a freshman as I've seen in the league in a long, long time. Belcher, (Brent) Carter, they've got good pitching. They really do. They're good. I thought a year ago their pitching was as good as we saw in the league. They can pitch. There is no mystery there. They've got really good pitching and they've got kids like Gabe Scott that have had better offensive years. They're playing better offensively than they did a year ago."
Even though Scott has been very productive at the plate this season along with Rocky Scelfo, Alabama has struggled lately and limps into Auburn having lost six of its last 10 SEC games. That includes back-to-back series losses against Mississippi State and Arkansas. Against the Hogs, Alabama hit just .185 with only 11 runs in the three games.
Auburn also has struggled lately, including a series loss at Georgia in which the Tigers won the Friday game and led on Saturday before losing the lead and the game. Slater says that while the team is disappointed they couldn't get it done against the Dogs, he's not worried about their focus this weekend.
"Our kids played hard," Slater says of the Georgia series. "They competed and they battled. I don't ever feel bad about this group of guys. We're 53 games into the season. I have been so proud of this group and the way they go about their business and play. Am I disappointed that we didn't win the series? Always. I'm always disappointed when you don't win a series. Am I down? No. We're focused on what we have to do to win this weekend. We've got a good group of guys that just continue to work hard."
This weekend's series will be very important to Auburn's future as LSU travels to Mississippi State for a three-game series. MSU is just one-half game in front of Auburn in ninth place. Both Arkansas and Vanderbilt are tied for eighth spot at 13-14 in league play. The Hogs take on Ole Miss in Fayetteville this weekend while Vanderbilt takes on the SEC's top team the Florida Gators in Nashville.
Game times for the weekend series in Auburn are 7 p.m. on Friday, 4 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday. Sunday's game will be televised live by Comcast Sports Southeast.