Tigers To Face Hot-Hitting Gators

Auburn, Ala.--In a classic match-up of solid pitching versus explosive hitting, the 17th ranked Auburn Tigers (20-6, 4-2) travel to Gainesville to face the 7th ranked Florida Gators (22-5, 4-2) for a key three-game series that begins Friday night.

The Tigers enter the series on a pitching roll. Second in the league with a 2.96 earned run average, Auburn has been really strong of late having allowed just two runs and four and a half hits per game in the last seven games. During that stretch opponents have hit just .142 and the staff has an overall earned run average of 1.16. Despite those impressive numbers, they don't begin to compare to what Florida has done on the other side of the plate.

With a team batting average of .398 with 61 home runs in just 27 games, Florida has been a dominant force at the plate the entire season. Mark Kiger leads the way with a .481 average and has seven home runs and 34 runs batted in to go along with his lofty average. Normally that would be far and away the story for a team at this point in the season but Florida has players up and down the lineup with unbelievable numbers. Of the 17 players that have official at-bats this season for coach Pat McMahon, 16 are hitting above .300 and eight of those are above .400. Needless to say this will be a big challenge for the Tiger pitching staff.

"We're excited about playing the Gators," Auburn coach Steve Renfroe said. "They have the most dominant statistics I've seen in, gosh, maybe 20 years. LSU has had numbers before but these numbers are astounding. The power numbers are off the scale. They've got more home runs right now than we hit last year I think and probably will hit this year. They almost have as many triples as our home runs. And then you look and they have more sac bunts than we have and more stolen bases. So they are a pretty formidable opponent and I think it will be a great test for our club. It's like going to Clemson, I think all it can do is make us better no matter what happens. We're excited and looking forward to it."

The challenge of slowing down Florida goes to Auburn's starting trio of Levale Speigner, Eric Brandon and Colby Paxton. Friday night Speigner (5-2, 2.92 ERA) faces senior left-hander Jimmy Ramshaw for Florida. Ramshaw is 2-1 on the season with an earned run average of 4.37. Saturday Brandon (3-1, 2.45) has the luxury of facing Florida ace Alex Hart. The big junior right-hander is 7-0 on the year with a 1.90 ERA. Sunday has Paxton (6-1, 3.46) facing senior left-hander Keith Ramsey, who is 3-1 with a 6.39 earned run average.

In the batter's box for the Tigers things begin with Jonathan Schuerholz. Hitting .473 with an on-base percentage of .561, the junior has moved into the third spot in the order behind lead-off man Javon Moran and number two hitter Doug Vines. That gives Renfroe three solid runners at the top of the order for clean-up hitter Bobby Huddleston to drive in and he's done just that. Hitting .432 himself, the junior designated hitter/catcher has three home runs and 19 runs batted in on the season despite missing five games with a concussion. Tied for the team lead in RBI's are Trent Pratt and Scott Schade with 27 each. Pratt is hitting .323 with five home runs while Schade has been hot of late and has his average up to .319 with four home runs.

A dangerous club at home with a 19-2 record in games played McKethan Stadium, Florida will likely score more runs this weekend than this Auburn staff is used to giving up. It will be up to the Tigers' offense to put some runs on the board themselves if they hope to come out of the Sunshine State still near the top of the Western Division standings.

Game times for the weekend series are 5:30 p.m. on Friday night, 3 p.m. on Saturday afternoon and noon on Sunday. All times are central.


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