To reach an NCAA Regional the Tigers may have to reach the 16-win mark in conference play which calls for two wins in Fayetteville over a team that is playing its best baseball of the season after sweeping Ole Miss in Oxford last weekend. But coach Steve Renfroe said there's only one thing on the minds of the Tigers at the moment.
"My biggest concern right now is to get one and get in the SEC Tournament," Renfroe said. "I don't want to get too far ahead. These kids have come back from the dead so to speak and have played very well lately. They've always played hard and they're a fun bunch to be with. I really think Friday night is the most important game of the year for us and we'll attack that one. I do think that if we get one and get in the tournament at .500, like last year, our RPI will be one of the best in the country. And if you look at the teams in the league that we'll battle, our record is very similar and we've beaten several of those head-to-head. I think we'll be okay.
"We're just looking forward to going up and playing Arkansas. Obviously they are pretty hot to go to Ole Miss and sweep them, that's quite a task. It sets up what I think is going to be one of the best weekends in SEC history. The match-ups are very good this week…Arkansas has great fans and a great atmosphere. We're looking forward to the trip. We're playing our best baseball and hopefully we'll continue that."
The Razorbacks enter the contest with a record of 28-23, 11-13 in conference play. After dropping two-of-three at home to Kentucky two weekends ago all seemed lost for Arkansas but it's funny how one week cane chance everything as the last one did at Ole Miss. Now the Norm DeBryn coached Hogs are in control of their own destiny with a lead over Mississippi State for the eighth and final spot in the SEC Tournament. That reason alone would make this a tough test for the Tigers but there is perhaps a bigger reason. That reason is astroturf.
Playing in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains, Arkansas gets plenty of bad weather during baseball season and for that reason they installed fake grass as their playing surface. As one of the few schools that play on carpet, the Hogs have a distinct advantage when playing at home and that is something that concerns Renfroe. So much so that he had his team practice inside the indoor football practice facility twice during the week to get a feel for the different surface.
"It's really hard to prepare," Renfroe said. "That's really something to their advantage. That's my main concern is taking a really young ball club on astroturf for the first time. We've had some older clubs go in there the second time and be more comfortable but that's my major concern. We just have to go up and practice (Thursday night) and get used to it the best we can and just play. That's just part of baseball."
The Tigers enter the weekend winners of six of their last seven games, including five one-run wins. The 6-1 record to start the month of May is Auburn's best since the 1988 season when the Tigers began the month with six straight wins. A big reason for the current success is the play of sophomore center fielder Javon Moran. Now comfortable hitting in the three hole, Moran has hit safely in 12-straight games and in 11 of those he had more than one hit. During that stretch he is hitting .517 (30-58).
His emergence has keyed a Tiger offensive explosion of sorts in that span. Hitting just .259 as a team from April 1-20, Auburn has hit an impressive .336 as a team since that time. That blowup culminated in a series win over Georgia in which the Tigers had 46 hits and scored 27 runs. The 46 hits were the most in a series this season and the most since recording 46 last year at Vanderbilt.
Auburn will send their regular weekend pitching rotation against the Hogs as Colby Paxton gets the call Friday night for the 6:30 start against senior Charlie Isaacson from Arkansas. Paxton is 8-3 on the year with a 4.76 ERA while Isaacson is 4-6 with a 3.00 earned run average. Saturday's 6:30 start has junior Levale Speigner facing off against junior Gary Hogan Jr. Speigner is 7-6 with an ERA of 4.84 while Hogan is 3-6 with an ERA of 5.00. Sunday Eric Brandon will start for Auburn but Arkansas is still listed as TBA for the 1 p.m. game. Brandon is 3-2 with a 5.13 earned run average.
Should the Tigers qualify for the SEC Tournament, the games at the Hoover Met begin on Wednesday.