Tigers Looking To Make Move in SEC Race

Auburn travels to Ole Miss this weekend for a big three-game series between Western Division foes.

Auburn, Ala.--Derek Sain, Grant Cardwell, Chris Dennis and Jeff Boutwell.

The list is a short one for the Auburn Tigers, but it speaks volumes about this year's baseball team because those are the only four players on the roster who had been a part of a college game at the Hoover Met until Tuesday night's 5-4 loss to Samford.

A major goal of every team in the Southeastern Conference is reaching Hoover, the site of the SEC Baseball Tournament. For Auburn the last two seasons have gone by without making it to the tournament, something Coach Tommy Slater said made Tuesday night's trip even bigger for his team and program in general.

"It was very important for us to play in Hoover," Slater said. "There's not many kids in that dugout who have ever been to Hoover. That is what it is. Obviously last year we were a half-game from being there. Two years ago Auburn didn't make the SEC Tournament so there are a lot of players on our roster that have never been to Hoover.

"It was also a two-fold deal," he added. "Number one it helps Casey (Samford coach Casey Dunn), who I'm very close with and fond of. Playing at Hoover he's going to make more money that he would playing at home because they're going to get a bigger crowd. I wanted to do that to help Casey.

"Two I wanted to do it to help our ball club because I want my kids to know what that place is about so hopefully at the end of the season when we're back there it won't be their first time walking on that field. They can set that goal of ‘hey, that's where we want to be.' We all know that if you're in the SEC Tournament then you've got a chance to keep playing. That's certainly our goal right now."

Auburn can take a big step forward toward reaching the goal this weekend when the Tigers travel to Oxford to face the Ole Miss Rebels in a three-game series. Coming off a weekend sweep of Georgia the Rebels are 17-12 overall and 4-5 in SEC play. Slater said that once again the weekend will be a tough one for his team, especially in the pitching department.

The reason for that is the continued injury problems to expected Sunday starter Chris Dennis and closer Luke Greinke. First struggling with tendonitis in his shoulder and then pleurisy (which is an inflammation of the tissue around the lungs), Dennis has thrown well this week and should be ready to go this weekend.

Luke Greinke leads Auburn in ERA at 1.80 and has three saves in nine appearances this season.

The same is true of Greinke, who hasn't pitched since straining a muscle on March 14, but he should be available for one outing this weekend. Slater said that because of the injury problems it makes it tough during conference play because of the roster limitations on a team.

"What the injuries impact is who your 25-man dress roster is," Slater said. "When you've got some uncertainty with a couple of guys that are two of your best guys it forces you to dress more pitchers because you don't know how many innings you're going to get out of those guys. If you're forced to dress more pitchers that's a position player or two you have to leave off a 25-man dress list.

"Ideally when everything is good and everybody is healthy you're 15 position players and 10 pitchers going into a weekend, but when you're sitting there with a couple of guys battling through injuries it's two extra pitchers you've got to take and two less position players you can take. It impacts your ability to do some things at different stages of the game, but it is what it is. You've got to battle through it."

For the Rebels the weekend rotation is set as left-hander Craig Rodriguez gets the call against Auburn's Brett Butts on Friday night. Rodriguez is 0-0 with a 4.68 ERA this season while Butts is 2-4 with an earned run average of 5.09.

Perhaps the best matchup of the weekend comes on Saturday as Evan Crawford goes for the Tigers against outstanding freshman Brett Bukvich for the Rebels. Crawford is 3-4 with a 3.79 ERA while Bukvich is 3-2 with a 2.60 ERA. Sunday Auburn is listed as to be announced while freshman Lance Lynn (2-2, 4.72) is on the mound for the Rebels.

At the plate the Rebels are led by Justin Henry, who is hitting .374 with a home run and 15 RBI. He leads the team with 14 stolen bases and his seven doubles are second on the team. The power for Ole Miss comes from Mark Wright, who is hitting .302 with seven home runs and 23 RBI. As a team the Rebels are hitting .300 with 23 home runs and 55 doubles this season.

Game times for the weekend are 6:30 p.m. on Friday, 4 p.m. on Saturday and 1:30 on Sunday. There is no television for the weekend series.

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