Having already defeated quality opponents Troy, Jacksonville, Michigan State and South Alabama this year, Coach Tommy Slater says his Tigers are looking forward to testing themselves against the powerful Sun Devils.
"If you look at our schedule we have been building towards this," Slater says. "With each successive weekend the competition has gotten a little bit better and this should be exciting. You have two Top 25 clubs, one from the Pac 10 and one from the SEC. I know our guys are looking forward to it and hopefully we will have good crowds out here to watch us play."
This is a much different Auburn team than the one Slater took to Tempe, Ariz., last spring hoping to get his young squad some tough experience heading into SEC play. The Tigers took their lumps against the Sun Devils but it didn't help later in the season as Auburn struggled the remainder of the year due to a lack of quality pitching depth and inexperience at key positions.
This year the Tigers are older, wiser and more talented thanks to yet another infusion of young talent. That is important this weekend because Auburn will be facing one of the country's elite programs filled with quality players both in the field and on the mound. Slater says all you have to do is look at Arizona State's batting order to tell what kind of players the Sun Devils have.
"Arizona State has really good young players just like we do," Slater says. "Their catcher, Petey Paramore, is outstanding. He is a guy we talked about a lot being invited to Team USA last year. They have a sophomore in Brett Wallace, who can really swing the bat. He went and was a Cape Cod League All-Star last summer. Ike Davis was a kid we took to (Team USA) trials last year as a true freshman. He is a two-way star for Arizona State, a big left-handed bat as well as a closer. They have quality kids on the mound too."
Auburn's Mike Bianucci hits a ground ball in last year's series with ASU's Paramore ready to receive the pitch.
To counter the powerful offense of Arizona State, Auburn will use a quality pitching staff that goes into the weekend well-rested. Sophomores Bryan Woodall, Paul Burnside and Evan Crawford will get the starts this weekend with what has been a stellar bullpen waiting in reserve. Slater says having a full staff is something that makes a big difference in college baseball and that has already been shown with the Tigers this season.
"I like our club right now, and the reason I like our club is because we can pitch," Slater says. "Whenever you can pitch, when you can run a guy out there every single day that you feel comfortable with as a starter, and you feel good about your bullpen, you have a chance to win everyday.
"Obviously, we are not going to win every time out, but our ability to pitch has me really feeling good about this club. That's the biggest difference in our program in year three as opposed to years one and two. We now have pitching depth and quality guys not only every day of the week as starters, but we have quality guys in the bullpen just about every day as well and that is the biggest difference."
On the comeback trail to becoming one of the top programs in the SEC once again, this weekend is a big opportunity for Auburn to gain some national recognition against a big-name opponent. Should Auburn win the series it would signal the Tigers are for real, but by the same token a loss in the series won't mean the end of the season either team. Facing one of the top baseball programs in the country, Slater says his team is just looking forward to the challenge of facing the best.
"When you say Arizona State, you think about one of the best teams in college baseball every single year," Slater says. "It has been that way since Jim Brock was the head coach there and Reggie Jackson was playing for them. You talk about teams historically amongst the best in college baseball and Arizona State has to be right there. It is a great baseball school and always has been. Certainly right now they are very good once again."