Huge Series For Both Tigers and Gators

Auburn and Florida tangle this weekend in Gainesville in a series that is huge for both teams' chances at postseason play.

Auburn, Ala.--Coming into the 2006 baseball season it wouldn't have been shocking to find the last place team in the SEC in this weekend's showdown between Auburn (18-22, 6-9) and Florida in Gainesville, but it would have been very surprising to find out that team was the Gators. A loser in the national championship series last season to Texas, Florida (23-18, 5-10) returned a wealth of talent and experience this season, but to this point it hasn't paid off in wins on the diamond.

For Auburn's Tommy Slater it's just a matter of time before the Gators pick things up on the field. After all, he knows these players as well as anyone after coaching at Florida when many of the current players were freshmen or being recruited. Because of that he said this weekend's series against the Gators will be much tougher than many expect.

"I know the numbers don't show it, but this is a really good offense," Slater said. "They are starting to swing the bats and this is the most offensive yard in all of America that we're going to this weekend. I think their strength first and foremost is that they've got good position players. They're going to defend the field very well and their position players are going to swing the bats and put pressure on us."

The Gators enter this weekend's series on somewhat of a roll after winning Sunday at Tennessee and then again Tuesday night at number five Florida State. It is the first two-game winning streak for Florida since winning back-to-back games against UCF and Arkansas in mid-March.

Expected to be one of the country's top offensive teams, the Gators have struggled at the plate this season. Hitting just .268 as a team, Florida hasn't dominated opponents at the plate but still bring plenty of power into the series. Leading an attack that has 39 home runs this season, center fielder Gavin Dickey has come into his own this year. Hitting .310 with nine homers and 34 RBI, the speedy former quarterback also has five doubles. Veterans Adam Davis, Matt LaPorta, Brian Leclerc, Brian Jeroloman and Brandon McArthur give the Gators plenty of options, options that Slater said he hopes they can control this weekend.

"Obviously I know their personnel as well as anybody that isn't coaching there right now because I spent a lot of time with these guys," Slater said. "The guys that have been in their lineup have been there for three years. Some of the kids that are doing a lot of the pitching for them are kids that are there when I was there or are kids that I helped recruit there. Obviously it's a lot of kids I know. I don't think it's a hindrance at all. I have an idea of what we should do to get them out, it's just a matter of executing."

Left fielder Jeff Boutwell has a current seven-game hitting streak and has eight RBI during the stretch.

Florida isn't the only team that has struggled this season to put something together as the same thing has been the case for Auburn. Despite wins over Top 10 teams Florida State, South Carolina and Mississippi State there have also been losses to Elon, Birmingham Southern and Troy to put the Tigers behind the eight ball for postseason consideration. Slater said this weekend is a big one for his team as it continues to make strides heading down the stretch of SEC play.

"I think the team is continuing to get better and improve," Slater said. "After starting out 1-5 in the SEC through our first six games, over the last nine we have managed to go 5-4. I do think we're improving. I think we're a lot better team today than we were on February 3. As evidenced by the record we're not a real consistent team. We've shown the ability to win a game or two, but we've also shown the ability to lose to just about anybody. I think the overall play of our position players and some of our pitchers has continued to get better as the season has progressed."

On the mound this weekend the Gators will have Bryan Ball (4-5, 4.18) on Friday, Bryan Augenstein (7-3, 2.69) on Saturday and likely Chas Spottswood (1-1, 7.77) or Kris Gawriluk (0-2, 4.63) getting the call on Sunday. For the Tigers the rotation will remain the same with Brett Butts (2-5, 5.98) on Friday, Evan Crawford (4-4, 3.86) on Saturday and Chris Dennis (2-3, 5.95) on Sunday. Game times for the weekend are 5:30 Friday night, 3 p.m. on Saturday and noon on Sunday. All times are central.

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