Ranked in the Top 30 by Collegiate Baseball for the first time in nearly three seasons, Auburn went into last week looking to continue a strong start and the Tigers did just that beginning with an impressive 11-3 victory over 2006 NCAA Regional foe Troy. Wins over another NCAA Regional squad Jacksonville, Michigan State and South Alabama finished Auburn's week in Mobile as the Tigers jumped out to their best start since 2004 when they opened 14-1.
The victory over South Alabama was the biggest of the week for Auburn. Playing on the road and looking to win the Coca-Cola Classic, Auburn scored seven runs in the first inning on the way to a 20-5 pasting of the Jaguars. It was the Tigers' third consecutive victory over the Jaguars and showed yet another way this Auburn team could win a baseball game.
So far this season the Tigers have won games in a variety of ways, but had yet to really punish a worthy adversary. The victory over Troy was a sign of things to come this week as Auburn put it all together against South Alabama. Leading the charge on offense for the Tigers was sophomore Mike Bianucci. Finishing the game 4-5 with a home run, four RBI and four runs scored, Bianucci was the catalyst of a strong offensive performance for the Tigers that saw them hit four home runs and pound out 16 hits.
Named MVP for the weekend, Bianucci was 8-12 in the three-games with two home runs, seven RBI and six runs scored. For the week Bianucci was 10-15 with three home runs, eight RBI and scored eight runs. Coach Tommy Slater says that his stellar sophomore delivered this week just the way he has prepared to do his entire career at Auburn.
"Mike really swung it well," Slater says. "He has been swinging it well. He swung it well last Tuesday in our mid-week game and it just carried over. No one works harder than Mike Bianucci. He comes in every morning at eight o'clock and gets extra hitting in before he goes to class. He deserves everything he gets because the young man absolutely works his tail off. I'm just very, very proud of him and I feel very fortunate to have the pleasure of coaching a young man like him."
Bianucci had a huge week for the Tigers at the plate.
Bianucci wasn't the only Tiger to have a great week at the plate as junior Josh Donaldson and freshmen Ross Smith and Eric Skinner also did their part in helping Auburn to four victories. In the four games Donaldson finished 8-17 with a home run, four doubles, six RBI and nine runs scored. Smith wasn't far behind at 7-17 with seven runs batted in and four runs scored while Skinner had just three hits in 14 at-bats but made them count with seven RBI that included a grand slam.
On the mound the Tigers continue to be solid as they gave up just 14 earned runs and 32 hits in four games last week. The star of the show was again sophomore Bryan Woodall. Against Jacksonville on Friday he gave up just three hits and no runs in Auburn's 7-6 victory. For the season Woodall has yet to allow an earned run in 19 innings of work and has given up just 11 hits. He has walked just one hitter while striking out 13.
Starter Paul Burnside earned his third win of the season last week.
Out of the bullpen both Chris Dennis and Johnny Thompson had good weeks for the Tigers. In two appearances Dennis allowed one earned run in three innings while Thompson didn't allow a run and gave up just one hit in three innings of work.
This week the Tigers will face yet another tough week as the Samford Bulldogs come to Plainsman Park on Tuesday at 3 p.m. before the powerful Arizona State Sun Devils roll into town for a weekend series. Freshman Taylor Thompson will get the call against Samford in a game that Slater says should be another chance to get some young guys work on the mound.
"He has settled in to that Tuesday starter role," Slater says of Thompson. "Austin Hubbard will get an opportunity to pitch. Our bullpen should be pretty well rested as well going into the Tuesday game against Samford."
This weekend the No. 14 Arizona State Sun Devils travel to Plainsman Park in a return trip after the Tigers went West last season and were swept at Packard Stadium. With a record of 10-3 on the season with the losses coming to Vanderbilt in 10 innings, Missouri and Oregon State, the Sun Devils are riding high after throttling UAB in a three-game series over the weekend. Bianucci says this is a week the Tigers have been thinking about since practices began last fall.
"We're really looking forward to that weekend," Bianucci says. "It's going to be fun."
Top Weekend Performer: There is little doubt that Mike Bianucci was the man of the week for the Tigers. With his offensive numbers soaring after a slow start hitting behind Josh Donaldson, Auburn has as strong a 3-4 punch as any team in the country.
Biggest Surprise: Auburn's dismantling of South Alabama on Sunday is something that has never happened to the tune of 20 runs scored by the Tigers. The closest Auburn has come to that total against the Jaguars was 17 runs in 1997.
Top Pitcher: It has to be Bryan Woodall. Many assumed he was just keeping the Friday night spot warm for fellow sophomore Evan Crawford, but the way he's pitching it will be tough to move him down in the rotation.
Most Improved: Sophomore catcher Ryan Jenkins hasn't played much this season, but when he got his opportunity over the weekend he made the most of it. Jenkins was 3-7 on the weekend with a home run and five RBI. His biggest hit came on Friday when he had a clutch two-out, two-run single in Auburn's 7-6 victory.
Auburn's Stock Report: It's a steady climb this week as the Tigers played well and went a perfect 4-4 on the week. The challenge is tougher this week as a scrappy Samford squad comes to Plainsman Park on Tuesday before the powerful Sun Devils are in for a three-game series.