Despite losing a game to Lipscomb that it definitely should have won, Coach Tommy Slater's club showed a lot of hope in its first week of play in the new season.
Through four games the Tigers have displayed the ability to score runs in bunches without a lot of help from two players expected to be a major part of the offense. Hitting fourth and fifth in the lineup, All-American candidate Mike Bianucci and first baseman Andy Bennett haven't delivered like most expected.
While Bianucci has done some good things with two home runs and four RBI despite hitting just .267, Bennett has been almost non existent with a .091 average and no runs batted in.
That makes Auburn's offensive output to start the season even more impressive. Hitting .338 as a team, the Tigers are led by reigning National Offensive Player of the Week Josh Donaldson. Hitting .500 with three home runs, three doubles and 11 RBI, Donaldson is just ahead of true freshman Ross Smith at .444 with a team-high five doubles. Senior Bruce Edwards (.444), Luke Greinke (.400) and another true freshman Robert Brooks are also all above .400. Starting at second base Brooks is 8-20 on the year with two doubles, one triple and six RBI.
Auburn's pitching has been solid to start the year despite two members of the rotation not starting the first weekend. With both Paul Burnside and Evan Crawford back in the starting role against UNC-Greensboro along with fellow sophomore Bryan Woodall, the Tigers should be in good shape pitching-wise for the weekend. Slater says getting the rotation back to full strength is something he's looking forward to seeing this weekend.
"It's nice to get the rotation set," Slater says. "Not to take anything away from the other two kids that started last weekend, but we had planned all along for that to be our starting rotation. It's nice to go in to a weekend with that starting rotation, the three guys we wanted to go with."
Dominant in his first outing of the year when he allowed just three hits and no runs in seven innings last Friday, Woodall will again get the assignment for game one of the series. Burnside will follow on Saturday and Crawford on Sunday. They will be looking to keep Auburn's pitching stats in good shape as the Tigers enter the weekend with a team ERA of just 3.23 after four games. Auburn hasn't allowed a home run and opponents are hitting just .255 against the Tigers.
Woodall is looking to improve his record to 2-0 on Friday.
Playing in a solid baseball league in the Southern Conference, UNCG finished 26-33 last season and will be making its first trip to Auburn since the 1996 season. A team known for playing fundamental baseball without a lot of power and having quality pitching, Slater says UNCG will present his team a challenge this weekend and he's looking forward to watching his team continue to grow.
"They haven't played yet," Slater says of UNC-Greensboro. "I know their club very well because they were in the Southern Conference when I was at VMI. Mike Gaski has been there for 17 years. He's the same guy that brought teams down here in the '90s. He's a very good coach that is heavily involved in USA Baseball. They are always well-schooled and can pitch very well.
"We're going to see better arms this weekend than we've seen our first four games," Slater says. "They are always going to pitch well and they'll defend well and will probably be able to short-game a little bit. That has been UNC-Greensboro through the years and I expect them to be a very good ball club similar to Elon."
Game times for the weekend at 3 p.m. on Friday, 2 p.m. on Saturday and 1:30 Sunday afternoon.