After getting swept last weekend at North Carolina State, the Pride will enter the series looking to play better and Auburn coach Tommy Slater said he has no doubt the Tigers will see a good team beginning Friday.
"Last year we had to hit a walk-off on Sunday to beat them," Slater said. "They've got every player and pitcher back from their best team in school history a year ago. They made the Colonial tournament for the first time so it's an experienced ball club. They struggled last weekend at N.C. State, but it was their first weekend out of the gym.
"I know their coach and I'm sure they'll be better this weekend with it not being the first time out. They play an aggressive brand of baseball. They're going to hit and run, steal bases, and they'll be coming down here to get after us just like everyone on our schedule."
For the Tigers this weekend's series is another chance for a group of inexperienced players to continue their growth as Auburn gets closer to the Southeastern Conference schedule. While they make their share of mistakes at times and struggle to find the strike zone occasionally, Slater said that his second team is making quick progress and he believes it will continue to do so throughout the season.
"I think every time we play we're going to get better," Slater said. "When you have as many new players, whether they're freshmen or junior college players or just new players, the more you play together the better you'll get. I think anybody that watched the first weekend and then saw last weekend would say ‘Auburn is better.' A lot of that is guys' nerves. They're more relaxed.
"No matter how good of a player you are, on opening weekend you're nervous. It's a new environment and things are different. I think you saw this weekend that the guys came out and were more relaxed and played the game with more composure. I think that will just continue to build. It's going to get better each weekend I believe and there are still some players who haven't played."
Junior college transfer Brett Butts will be the Saturday starter for the Tigers.
One player who hasn't played to this point, but is expected back this weekend, is true freshman third baseman Mike Bianucci. Following a sprained ankle suffered in practice just days before the opener against VMI, Bianucci has been working to get back on the field and see some action for the Tigers. While he won't get to play any defense, the 6-1, 202-pounder is expected to see some time at designated hitter for the Tigers this weekend.
Another change fans could see this weekend is the addition of Josh Stapleton into the lineup. A second baseman, the South Alabama transfer could play third base this weekend against a right-hander to allow sophomore Josh Donaldson to get behind the plate and catch. The move could strengthen Auburn's lineup and give Slater more options off the bench if needed.
The rotation for the weekend has junior Chris Dennis on the mound Friday at 4 p.m. in the series opener. This season Dennis is 1-0 with an ERA of 1.50 in two starts . On Saturday the game has been moved up two hours to 2 p.m. as sophomore transfer Brett Butts gets his second start of the season. Sunday's 1 p.m. start has true freshman Evan Crawford on the mound.