Big Cat Battle Set For Plainsman Park

Auburn and LSU square off in a huge SEC Western Division series this weekend.

Auburn, Ala.--Auburn Coach Tommy Slater likes to say that every SEC series is equally important, but even he had to admit that the next two home series against LSU and Georgia are bigger than most for his team.

Coming into this weekend's action Auburn leads LSU by one game in the SEC standings and currently sits in ninth place one-half game behind Mississippi State. With Georgia one full game ahead and hosting South Carolina this weekend in Athens it makes the next two weekends huge for the Tigers if they hope to make it to Hoover.

"Where we're at in the rankings and where we're all positioned, it's big for LSU and Georgia as well," Slater said. "They are big. The good thing is that our kids have played the last month and put themselves in position to put their destiny in their own hands. We don't have to rely on anyone else, so to speak. If we can win these next two series then I think we'll go on the road the last weekend with our destiny in our own hands. They're big."

Looking to get back on the winning track in SEC play following a series loss at Alabama last weekend, Auburn (22-25, 9-12) hopes the home field will continue to pay dividends as the Tigers have won series against Kentucky and Mississippi State the last two weekends they've been in Plainsman Park. To do that again this weekend against LSU (29-17, 8-13) Auburn must do the little things well, but Slater said there is one important ingredient for his ballclub that must be present in order for them to have a shot to win this weekend.

"As we all know it starts on the mound," Slater said. "If we can get quality starts out of our starters and get to our bullpen we certainly feel like we'll be in a position to have a chance to win. If you look at when we've done well that's pretty much what has happened."

Auburn's rotation will once again remain unchanged this weekend as Brett Butts gets the call on Friday with Evan Crawford on Saturday and Chris Dennis on Sunday. For the season Butts is 3-5 with a 6.40 ERA, Crawford 5-5 with a 3.84 ERA and Dennis rounds out the starters at 3-4 with a 6.02 earned run average. Slater said they'll have to pitch well facing a LSU team capable of scoring runs in bunches.

"LSU, just looking at their club on film and statistically, as per usual it looks like they're swinging the bats very well," Slater said. "They have right at a .300 team batting average. They've got guys like Quinn Stewart, he's got 20 home runs this year, J.T. Wise is a true freshman from down in Apopka, Fla. who is really swinging the bat well for them with nine home runs. They've got some good offensive players.

"On the mound Clark Dirks (3-4, 5.34 ERA, Jr.), as we all know, is a veteran pitcher. (Louis) Coleman (4-3, 4.31) has been throwing the ball well for them of late. Daniel Forrer (1-2, 6.35) is a former Auburn Tiger who played as a freshman here and then went to junior college. We know he's got real good stuff…it's a good LSU team and we're looking forward to the challenge of competing with them."

Freshman Evan Crawford leads the Tigers with five wins and has a team high 63 1/3 innings pitched this season.

Working in Auburn's favor this weekend is the return of third baseman Mike Bianucci after straining a muscle last Tuesday against Mercer and not making the trip to Alabama. Leading the team with a .394 batting average and second on the team with seven home runs despite missing 11 games this season, Bianucci is expected to see action at third base for the Tigers. Slater said that getting the team back to full strength is huge as the Tigers get ready to face LSU this weekend.

"Mike Bianucci will be active for the weekend," Slater said. "He looks to be okay. He's been swinging the bat the last couple of days and took some work at third base yesterday and moved around well there also. Clarence Nicely will be available as well. He threw yesterday with no pain. He felt good. We'll see how he feels today, but the doctors and everybody say he's fine."

Game times for the weekend are 7 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday with a 1 p.m. start on Sunday. Both Saturday and Sunday will be shown live on Comcast Sports Southeast and Jumbo Sports.

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