Battle Of The Tigers Set For Hoover

Auburn makes its 16th trip to the SEC Tournament in the last 17 years as the Tigers face LSU in Wednesday's opening round.

Auburn, Ala.--The second season begins for the fifth-seeded Auburn baseball Tigers on Wednesday when they take on fourth-seed LSU at 5 p.m. in the first round of the SEC Baseball Tournament at the Hoover Met.

LSU won two out of three earlier in the season at Auburn and enters with a record of 38-17 (19-10 in SEC play) while Auburn is 34-22 (15-15).

Both sets of Tigers come in playing their best baseball of the season. Auburn has won seven-of-10 games overall since being swept at Alabama on April 26-28. LSU has been even more impressive with 12 wins in its last 14 games overall and 10-of-12 in conference play.

"We're playing probably better ball late than we did earlier in the conference," LSU coach Smoke Lavale says. "We seem to have our health back under us to solidify lineups and pitching rotations. It's really a new season...It's been interesting with this club as the season unfolded how we grew and matured throughout all this. We'll see if we can keep that intensity and focus up because a lot of our guys haven't been there before. I think that's what will be fun and exciting for the Tigers."

Sophomore left-hander Lane Mestepay will get the call for LSU against Auburn on Wednesday after throwing 108 pitches Saturday in a 5-1 win over Alabama. Earlier in the season the first team All=SEC pick threw 130 pitches in a win over the Tigers. In six and two/thirds innings he allowed 10 hits and four runs, but earned the win in the first game of the series.

Sophomore Colby Paxton gets the call for Auburn after struggling in what was unquestionably the worst outing of his career last Friday night at Arkansas. Giving up four runs in just two/thirds of an inning, Paxton battled with his control as he constantly fell behind the Razorback hitters forcing him to groove one to avoid walks. The Tigers hope Paxton can get back to the form that has him 8-4 on the season with an ERA of 5.15 as they look to continue their good play into the postseason.

Colby Paxton should be fresh for the Tigers on Wednesday after a very short outing on Friday in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

"We played our best baseball the last several weeks," Auburn coach Steve Renfroe says. "They're ready to go. We've got two freshmen back that we did not have for the first two and a half months of the season and one of them (Steven Register) has gone 5-0 the last three weeks in the pen and the other (OF Matt Grooms) has swung the bat extremely well. That has been a great addition. We are looking forward to getting to Hoover and playing in this tournament. It's the best tournament this side of Omaha."

Perhaps the key to Auburn's season has been the emergence of closer Register out of the Auburn bullpen. After missing much of the season because of nagging arm problems, the Columbus, Ga., native has come on strong down the stretch and has five wins in the last 10 Tiger games. On the season he is 5-0 with a 3.78 ERA and has 20 strikeouts in just 16 and two/thirds innings.

Leading Auburn at the plate is second team All-SEC junior designated hitter Bobby Huddleston. Currently batting .373 with a team-leading 10 home runs, the Montgomery native has driven in 46 runs while hitting mostly from the cleanup spot. Huddleston and senior catcher Trent Pratt, also a second team pick, were the only Tigers who made the All-SEC teams picked by the league's coaches.

Bobby Huddleston has been Auburn's most consistent power hitter this year.

Also on fire is sophomore center fielder Javon Moran. Hitting .361, Moran went hitless on Sunday to end a 14-game hitting streak, a stretch in which he had 12 multiple hit games out of 14.

Win or lose on Wednesday, the Tigers will be back in action on Thursday with junior Levale Speigner taking the mound. With a record of 7-6 and an ERA of 4.72, Speigner is coming off his best outing in the last month when he pitched eight solid innings against Arkansas on Saturday. If Auburn wins on Wednesday, the Tigers would remain in the winner's bracket and wouldn't have to play until 8 p.m. Thursday against the winner of South Carolina vs. Arkansas. A loss to LSU would force an elimination game against the loser at 1 p.m. on Thursday.

>Levale Speigner kept Arkansas in check during Auburn's victory over the Razorbacks on Saturday that clinched an SEC Tournament berth.

Finishing the year at .500 in the league with a record of 15-15, Auburn now hopes that a solid non-conference schedule filled with the likes of Clemson, Georgia Tech, North Carolina and South Alabama will be enough to get them a regional bid on the Monday following the SEC Tournament. No matter what happens next week with the NCAA brackets, this week in Hoover should be exciting.

"I think there are three or four teams that are pretty sure they are in," Renfroe says of the NCAA Tournament. "Yet I think there is always that question mark so I really think it's going to be a special week. I think teams are going to get after it and coaches are going to be pushing their teams to lock up those (NCAA) host sites. I think it's really going to benefit the league and it should be a great week."

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