Tigers On the Outside Looking In

Auburn travels to Arkansas to face the Razorbacks in the final regular season series of the 2006 season.

Auburn, Ala.--With just one series left in the 2006 baseball season, the Auburn Tigers have three games left to finish what has been a tough year on a positive note.

Entering a series at Arkansas with an overall record of 22-31 and 9-18 in SEC play, which puts the Tigers out of the race for Hoover, Coach Tommy Slater says the main goal for his team this week hasn't changed.

"I just think it's important that we play well," Slater says. "We try and win every game. We certainly want to try to win all three this weekend.

"We're going to do everything within our power to do that. They're all important. We go out each day trying to win. We want to go out and win this weekend and I would be saying the same thing if we had won one this past weekend or the previous weekend.

"We want to try to win each game," he adds. "Do our best to win on Thursday, do our best to win on Friday and do our best to win on Saturday. We approach it no differently than we've approached any other series. The only thing that may be different is that now that we're out of the race for Hoover it may give some guys the opportunity for playing time that haven't played as much as some other guys.

Among the players that Slater says could see action this weekend are catcher Ryan Jenkins and outfielder Ben Jones, both true freshman. He did note that he would not use players at the expense of seniors Tyler Johnstone, Jeff Boutwell, Derek Sain and Grant Cardwell, who will be playing their last time for Auburn.

In the hunt for a playoff berth just three weekends ago, seven consecutive losses in conference play have left the Tigers on the outside looking in. On the other hand Arkansas (35-17, 15-12) has continued its strong play despite losing two of three last weekend at Ole Miss.

The 15th-ranked Razorbacks come into the contest tied for second in the Western Division with the Rebels and still have a shot to win the division crown just two games behind Alabama. Slater says the success for Coach Dave Van Horn's club begins with the pitching staff.

"They can run as usual," he says. "They are very active on the base paths. They hit and run and steal bases. They are 73-100 in that category.

"Any conversation with Arkansas has to start with their Thursday night starter Nick Schmidt. He's a sophomore left-hander who is very, very good. Opponents are only hitting a buck 96 (.196) off this guy and he's got 114 punchouts in 94 innings. He's a powerful left-hander and I think you've got to start with him. He's a very, very talented young man."

Freshman shortstop Justin Bristow will try to help Auburn's offense against a strong Arkansas pitching staff. Bristow is 11-32 in his last eight games with a current four-game hitting streak.

Auburn will counter with true freshman Paul Burnside on Thursday night as the series moves up a day to allow an extra rest day before next week's SEC Tournament. Burnside is 2-2 with a 4.28 ERA in 40 innings pitched.

On Friday it will be another true freshman, Evan Crawford (5-7, 3.77), on the hill for Auburn against junior Daryl Maday (1-1, 2.53) for the Razorbacks.

Sunday Auburn is listed as TBA while Arkansas will counter with sophomore Shaun Seibert (3-0, 2.86).

"Burnside was very effective out of the bullpen and we moved him into the starting rotation last weekend," Slater says. "Crawford has been very solid for us all year. Both of them are true freshmen and both have at times thrown the ball really well."

This week infielder Mike Bianucci was named as one of 20 collegiate players invited to try out for the 2006 National Team by USA Baseball based on his performance this season. Despite missing several games throughout the year because of injury, Bianucci is currently second in the conference in batting average at .375 and ninth in slugging percentage (.595), the only player in the league in the top 10 in both categories.

Game times for the series are 7 p.m. on both Thursday and Friday with Saturday's game scheduled for noon central time. There will be no television for the series.


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