"We are down to a must-win situation, I think, here in the last three weeks," Auburn coach Steve Renfroe says. "Going in we know that and it's at home. We have six at home. We've dug a hole and we need to try to dig out of it as soon as possible. There's really no waiting. We just have to go out and play well. We have not played as well as we can and hopefully we'll put it together and get pitching going with the defense and hitting. I think if we get hot pitching then we're going to be fine."
Hot pitching is something that Auburn has been looking for since the Tennessee series in March. Following Sunday's game in Knoxville the Tigers' team ERA stood at 2.96. Since that time Auburn has allowed more than nine runs in eight of 20 games and has seen the ERA rise to the current 4.26. After dominating for much of the first half of the season, the pitchers have struggled keeping opponents off base allowing double-figures hits in eight of the last nine games.
The Tiger pitchers face a Vanderbilt team that has been anemic on offense for much of the season. Hitting just .277 as a team with only three players over .300, the Commodores were held to two-hits Wednesday night in a 5-0 loss to Austin Peay at home. Leading the way is Chris Broadus, who is hitting .377 with eight doubles and 13 runs batted in. Big first baseman Sean Luellwitz is the power for the Commodores. Hitting .371 with nine home runs and 42 runs batted in, he will be a player Auburn must keep in check if the Tigers hope to shut down Vanderbilt for the weekend.
Jovan Moran leads off from third in an early season game.
For Auburn, sophomore center fielder Javon Moran continues to be the catalyst offensively for the club. Hitting .340 on the year with eight doubles, three triples and two home runs, Moran is 13-for-25 in his last five games with multiple hits in each contest. Leading the way at the plate for the Tigers is junior designated hitter Bobby Huddleston. Batting .369 with 15 doubles, seven home runs and 36 runs batted in, he continues to provide solid punch to the middle of the Auburn order.
The most surprising player to date on this Auburn team has to be freshman shortstop Chuck Jeroloman. Known for his solid defensive play, not only has he provided the glove in the middle of the infield but he has shown the capabilities to be an outstanding hitter as well. Hitting .271, he has improved that tremendously by going 9-for-23 in his last five SEC games. His defense has also been as good as advertised. Committing just six errors on the year, he has gone 92-straight chances without committing one, a streak that goes back 20 games.
Jeroloman leads an Auburn defense that is on pace to set the single-season mark for fielding percentage by a Tiger team. Currently fielding .968, the 2002 Auburn squad is just ahead of the .967 posted by the 1987 club. That defense will be key this weekend as the Tigers send the trio of Colby Paxton, Levale Speigner and Eric Brandon to the mound looking for a new lease on life to close out the season.
Friday night Paxton takes the mound for the 6:30 start against senior right-hander Jeff Little from Vanderbilt. On the season Paxton is 8-3 with a 4.58 ERA while Little is 4-6 with an earned run average of 5.59.
Saturday's 6:30 p.m. start (a time change to avoid conflicts with AU final exams) first pitch has Speigner facing off against Steven Faulkner from the Commodores. Speigner is 7-5 with a 4.02 ERA while Faulkner is 3-3 with a 5.69 ERA.
On Sunday, Brandon faces freshman left-hander Jeremy Sowers in a 1:30 p.m. start. Brandon is 3-2 with a 5.05 ERA while the former pro baseball first round pick Sowers is 4-5 with an ERA of 4.09. There is no television for the weekend.