Battle Of Big Cats At Plainsman Park

Auburn, Ala.--Coming off a tough weekend at Arizona State, the Auburn baseball Tigers (8-8) return home this weekend to face Birmingham-Southern (3-7) in a three-game series at Plainsman Park.

Looking for a lift the Tigers could get one with the return of junior pitcher Chris Dennis to the team.

Sitting out last weekend with tendonitis in his shoulder following arm surgery that kept him out of action all of last season, Dennis is expected to see some action against the Panthers. Coach Tommy Slater said that should be good news for his team as they get closer to conference play.

"He threw off the mound Wednesday for the first time," Slater said. "he threw to some live hitters in a controlled intra-squad. Getting him back on the mound this weekend for three innings of work or 60 pitches, I think it helps us. All you have to do is look at our roster, all of the guys that pitched at Arizona State this past weekend, none of them had ever pitched for Auburn on the road before.

"To get a guy back like Chris, who has some experience, is good to know. We're not going to rush him. Chris wants to rush, but it's our job to keep him reigned in. The fact that he had a little tendonitis is not unusual coming off the surgery he had."

Big Mike Bianucci is Auburn's most powerful hitter so far this season.

The Tigers will face a tough starting pitching staff this weekend as the Panthers go with junior Brandon Hynick (1-1, 2.04 ERA) on Friday night, senior David Horne (1-1, 6.00) on Saturday and sophomore Blake Martin (1-1, 2.25) on Sunday. Slater said that the weekend will be another big challenge for his club as it gets ready for SEC play in two weeks.

"Obviously Butch Thompson knows them very well," Slater said. "He won a national championship there as an assistant coach in 2001. He knows their program extremely well. Coach (Brian) Shoop has been a highly successful. The transition to Division I has been good to them. Looking at the scouting reports we've gotten from scouts and other colleges, their starting pitching is real strong.

"Hynick is a prospect, a right-hander 88-92 with a real good curveball. Horne is a senior who just really knows how to compete and pitch. People say he's got great pitch-ability. The sophomore on Sunday Martin has great stuff. They've got real good starting pitching, which is good. We've seen real good starting pitching. That's what we're going to see on the weekend in about two weeks. I think it's another good weekend to help us prepare."

For the Tigers the starting rotation remains the same as freshmen Bryan Woodall and Evan Crawford get the starts on Friday and Sunday respectively while sophomore Brett Butts gets the call on Saturday. Despite a total record of just 2-6, the trio has pitched good enough to win but has been plagued by defensive lapses and bad luck at times.

At the plate Auburn continues to be solid with a team batting average of .295. Freshman Mike Bianucci has been the top hitter for the Tigers since joining the team. Currently at .467 with three home runs and 12 runs batted in, Bianucci has a slugging percentage of .733. Senior Tyler Johnstone continues to be Mr. Consistency for the Tigers, hitting .381 with 17 runs scored in 16 games. This season he has reached base just over 45 percent of the time.

Game times for the weekend are 7 p.m. on Friday, 4 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday. Auburn leads the series over BSU 28-14 and has won six of the last seven between the two schools.

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