"You always go in with high hopes at the beginning of the season," junior third baseman Jonathan Schuerholz says. "You always think you're going to be the best team. That's the beauty of the beginning of the season. So far I think we've lived up to it. Our freshmen have really stepped up and our pitchers have been outstanding this year. I think if we keep doing what we're capable of doing I think we'll do pretty well."
Jonathan Schuerholz stands at second following a double against VCU earlier in the season.
Schuerholz is the perfect example of what this year's Auburn team is all about. A junior from Atlanta who had started 112 of 117 career games, he wasn't a starter for the Tigers as the 2002 season began but he didn't let that deter him. Knowing that his time would come, he helped out true freshmen Chuck Jeroloman and Tug Hulett as they became accustomed to playing big-time college baseball.
That help paid off for Schuerholz as well. Watching the two play every day to begin the season, he continued to work on his game and when his time came he took advantage of it and in a big way. When Josh Todd began to struggle at third base, Auburn coach Steve Renfroe didn't hesitate to insert Schuerholz into the position. Bigger and stronger even than last season, Schuerholz improved his throwing arm and that has allowed him to make the transition to the hot box without complications.
While his defense continues to be solid, it's at the plate where Schuerholz has made a difference. Hitting .473 on the season with an on-base percentage of .561, he has definitely cemented himself into Auburn's lineup. Because of his performance he has moved up the number three in the order. That change took place for the first time during last Sunday's game at Tennessee. Schuerholz responded with a four-hit effort and two stolen bases in Auburn's 8-1 in Knoxville. While he has been the offensive superstar of late, Schuerholz says this is about more than him, it's about all 25 guys.
"This is the true meaning of a team," he notes. "Like coach always says ‘we're not going to be able to bang down the fences'. We're not going to have people to hit 25 home runs. We're not going to have people with 85 RBI's. We're not going to have people with big slugging numbers. So it's fun to see when people give up at-bats, hit behind runners at second base and move a guy to third. When you can manufacture runs and win games like that it makes the games more fun. Winning the close game is a lot more fun that winning or losing the blowout."
At 4-2 in SEC play, including winning two-of-three on the road last weekend at Tennessee, Auburn is a far cry from where they were last year at this time. Standing at 0-6, they were reeling from close game losses and would be swept for the third straight time before going on a tear and winning 15 of their last 21 games in conference play to make the postseason.
"It's a tough place to play and the crowd is always into it," Schuerholz says of playing at Tennessee. "Getting two on the road, especially with our first road trip, is great. Last year we started off 0-9 but they were all close games. I think eight of them were one run games. I think this year we're finding ways to win those games. Having all those young guys, you can say all you want, but nothing prepares you for SEC road games. I think they handled it well and I think it's a credit to them and how prepared they are and how wise beyond their years they are."
The young guys on this team did get a little taste of what to expect in SEC play when they traveled to Clemson early in the season to face the talented and experienced Tigers in a three-game series. While Auburn didn't come away with a win on the weekend, they did play three tight games with the team that is now ranked number one in the country. That trip has served the Tigers well and will be a good reminder of things to come when the team travels to Gainesville this weekend to face the 6th ranked Florida Gators in a key sec match-up.
"Sometimes you schedule quality opponents like that but sometimes they are home and home and you can't really get a feel for what it's going to feel like for a full weekend," Schuerholz notes. "Scheduling Clemson early for a full weekend series was huge. It gets you ready for three games on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. You have to be ready to play three days in a row and you have to bring you're "A" game three days in a row against teams like that. You can't get away with anything. We played our hearts out up there at Clemson and we just came up short a couple of days. I think that prepared us well for Tennessee and it's going to prepare us well for SEC play the rest of the year."