It's SEC Time For Baseball Tigers

Auburn, Ala.--Fans looking for a classic baseball feel where pitching dominates the action may find that this weekend at Plainsman Park as the Tigers and Kentucky Wildcats feature rotations filled with quality arms.

Friday night's matchup should be not only one of the best in the SEC, but one of the best in the country as Levale Speigner faces Joseph Blanton from Kentucky. Speigner has been solid this season for the Tigers with a 4-1 record and an ERA of 3.74 while Blanton has been simply dominant. Although his record is just 2-1, Blanton is considered a possible first round selection in this year's amateur baseball draft. The junior right-hander has an ERA of just 1.84 on the season with 46 strikeouts and just six walks in 29 and one/third innings pitched.

Levale Speigner is Auburn's No. 1 starter.

The pitching matchups the rest of the weekend should be good also with Eric Brandon against freshman left-hander Craig Snipp on Saturday while Colby Paxton takes on Scott Wade on Sunday. Brandon, who threw a perfect game two weekends ago for the Tigers, comes into the weekend at 2-0 on the season with an ERA of just 2.10 while Snipp is 1-0 with an ERA of 3.63.

Paxton, who came up with perhaps his best career performance last weekend against North Carolina when he gave up five first inning runs but didn't allow another in the next six innings, is 4-1 with a 4.88 ERA while Wade is 3-2 with a 5.28 earned run average.

"This is the time of year everybody works for," Auburn coach Steve Renfroe said. "We're excited to get started. It's a new season and that's what brings so much excitement because everybody is 0-0 and every team feels like they have a shot."

At the plate the Wildcats are led by Caleb Stewart, who is hitting .348 with three home runs and 11 runs batted in. Right behind him is Robert Newton at .345 with four home runs and 13 runs batted in. As a team the Wildcats hit just .257 but have 16 home runs in 17 games. Opponents are hitting .291 against Wildcat pitching with 10 home runs.

For the Tigers the good news is the return of leading hitter Bobby Huddleston to the lineup. Hitting .481 on the year with two home runs and 16 runs batted in, the Montgomery native has been cleared to play following a concussion he suffered on March 6 against Samford.

Helping carry the load for Huddleston will be big junior college transfer Mike Mueller. Expected to earn the start in left field, the left-hander is hitting .382 with four home runs and 18 runs batted in this season.

Mike Mueller

Rounding out the power trio for the Tigers is catcher Trent Pratt. At .347 with a team-high five home runs and 27 runs batted in, the senior gives the Tigers a very dependable bat behind Huddleston and Mueller in the order. As a team the Tigers are hitting a solid .337 with 18 home runs in 19 games and are holding opponents to just a .248 average.

Although the Tigers have been tested several times this year, opening conference play puts things in a completely different world as far as this team in concerned. With 17 first-year or second-year players on the 25-man roster for Kentucky, this will be a big test for the team to see how it handles life in conference play and the pressures that go along with it.

"We'll find out," Renfroe said. "We played a fairly tough schedule by going to Clemson and having North Carolina. I think we caught a couple of other teams which we thought would be very good and I think they're going to be good, but we caught them without some of their guns. We'll find out. Again, I'm pleased. Defense is something you play day in and day out. That doesn't have so much to do with who you play. That pleases me. We seem to throw strikes and make people beat us and that pleases me. We're aggressive, we're resilient. It remains to be seen how mature and talented we are. We'll know that in probably the next seven or eight weeks."

Eric Brandon

Friday night's first pitch is scheduled for 6:30 with the first 500 fans through the gates receiving a mini-bat courtesy of Colonial Bank. Saturday is Plainsman Park Lapel Pin Day with the first 500 fans receiving commemorative lapel pins. The first pitch is scheduled for 3 p.m. Sunday's first pitch is an earlier than usual start of 12:30 p.m. with several promotions going on, including a commemorative baseball card celebrating Brandon's perfect game just two weekends ago.

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