"We're looking forward to the first road series in the SEC," Auburn coach Steve Renfroe said. "It will be the first of two on the road. It's always hard on the road, but we're excited about going to Knoxville. I know that Tennessee has got two of their top players back that didn't play last weekend in Brandon Hopkins and Javi Herrerra. So I think they will feel a little better about things. I know they'll be ready to get after us. I'm anxious to see our kids on the road. We need to pitch and defend and try to capitalize on scoring opportunities that we get."
The Vols come into the series looking for their first conference win after being swept on the road at Alabama last weekend. Tennessee does have some good news as injured starters Herrerra and Ryan Moffett both returned this week and although they didn't do much offensively, the team responded with two wins over Cincinnatti. They are led at the plate by Moffett with his .371 average and two home runs. Catcher Hal Bibee is on a career-high 11-game hitting streak and is currently hitting .346 with two home runs and 13 runs batted in. First baseman Dennis Gomez is tied for the team lead with three home runs and has 12 runs batted in.
Junior Jonathan Schuerholz is playing well for the Tigers.
Auburn counters offensively behind the strong play of Jonathan Schuerholz. Taking over the third base position for Josh Todd last week, the junior is leading the team in hitting with a .442 average and has scored 19 runs this season. More importantly, he has a team-high on base percentage of .547 and is a perfect seven-for-seven in stolen bases. Right behind him is junior designated hitter/catcher Bobby Huddleston. The former Tennessee Vol is hitting .438 with two home runs and 16 runs batted in. He leads the team with nine doubles.
Perhaps the hottest Tiger at the moment is lead-off man Javon Moran. Hitting .354, he leads the team with 27 runs scored and also has a home run and 16 RBI's.
The Tigers will send the strong contingent of Levale Speigner, Eric Brandon and Colby Paxton to the mound once again this weekend. Friday night Speigner (4-2, 3.57 ERA) will face off against sophomore left-hander Ben Riley from Tennessee. Riley is 2-0 on the year and has an earned run average of 3.82. Saturday Brandon (3-0, 2.25) will face sophomore righty Patrick Hicklen from Tennessee. Hicklen is 3-3 with a 7.39 earned run average. Sunday has Paxton (5-1, 3.68) on the hill facing junior left-hander Jeffery Terrell, who Terrell is 2-3 with an ERA of 3.76.
While Auburn's offense has been the surprise of the season to this point because of the run production, the pitching staff continues to be the rock on which this team leans. In their last 19 and one/thirds innings of word, Auburn pitchers have allowed just one hit, a bunt single. The Tigers have allowed just eight runs in the last four games and two of those came in a no-hitter Tuesday night against UAB when Auburn used a combined nine pitchers to shut down the Blazers.
With brutally cold temperatures expected Friday night and still chilly temperatures on Saturday, pitching and defense could be the determining factors between winning and losing this weekend in Knoxville. That should play right into Auburn's hands as not only do the Tigers hold the edge on the mound, defensively they have also been stellar this season. Second in the SEC in fielding percentage at .973, Auburn has committed one or no errors in 17 of the 22 games this season. If that holds true this weekend expect the Tigers to come home in good shape following Sunday's game.
Game times for the weekend are 6 p.m. CST on Friday night, 3 p.m. on Saturday afternoon and 1 p.m. on Sunday. The Tigers are off until next weekend because of spring break but travel to Gainesville to face the high-scoring Florida Gators in a key three-game series beginning next Friday.
Tiger Ticket Extra: The forecast low for Friday night in Knoxville is 23 degrees. On Saturday the is forecast to be 56 degrees and on Sunday the high is predicted to be 66 degrees.