Tigers Hope to Stay Hot As SEC Season Opens

The 10th-ranked Auburn Tigers begin SEC play this weekend at Georgia.

Athens, Ga.--Coming off a huge comeback victory over 30th-ranked VMI Wednesday night, the 10th-ranked Auburn Tigers (18-3) take to the road this weekend to open SEC play against the Georgia Bulldogs.

Struggling to open the season against one of the nation's toughest schedules, the 5-11 Bulldogs haven't had a lot of success, but Auburn's Tommy Slater says that numbers can be very deceiving.

"What I have seen from Georgia just looking at the box scores, obviously we'll be looking at film and going over scouting reports, it looks like they are pitching extremely well," Slater says. "They haven't scored a lot. I know they've got some new position players. One thing, I think all of us as coaches, if you said ‘Hey Tommy, you are going to struggle on mound or struggle with the bats what do you want to pick?' I would pick the bats. Let me be good on the mound. Georgia, they are pitching well. Their pitching numbers are good."

With a team ERA of just 3.41, Georgia can definitely pitch and it starts with the rotation as sophomore left-hander Nathan Moreau (2-0, 2.05), sophomore right-hander Trevor Holder (0-1, 3.86) and freshman left-hander Justin Earls (1-1, 1.12) will get the call for the Bulldogs this weekend. Moreau has been Georgia's most consistent starter while sophomore right-hander Stephen Dodson (0-1, 1.59) has been the top reliever. In 17 innings, Dodson has 15 strikeouts and only four walks.

The surprise this year for Georgia's pitching staff has been the struggles for All-America closer Josh Fields (0-3, 6.39). He had his second blown save of the year this past Tuesday. He has 12 walks to go with 18 strikeouts in 12.2 innings this year. Last year, Fields issued just 11 walks in 50 IP while going 3-2 with 15 saves and a 1.80 ERA.

At the plate the Bulldogs are starting over with very little experience coming back from last season. Leading the way is veteran outfielder Jonathan Wyatt. His .333 batting average leads Georgia this year and is the only regular hitting over .300 this season. The Bulldogs have scored just 60 runs in 16 games this season so it's no surprise that the power numbers aren't huge for the Bulldogs. Gordon Beckham leads the team with three home runs and 15 RBI while hitting .245 on the season.

Much of Georgia's offensive problems come because they have played some very good baseball teams in the first four weeks of the season. Even with the tough schedule Georgia has been right there with five losses coming by two runs or less. Slater says because of the teams they have played, this weekend will be a tough chore for his young team on the road.

"They are playing tight, close games," Slater says of Georgia. "They are like us. They've probably played a better schedule than we have. When you break it down and look at strength of schedule ratings we've got the second-hardest non-conference schedule in the SEC and they've got the hardest. They've played the defending national champions Oregon State, they've played USC, they played some other teams that are solid teams. It's the SEC. Everybody is good and it gets down to who is going to play hard and execute on the weekends."

Bryan Woodall will get the ball for the Tigers to open the series.

Auburn's starting rotation will remain the same this weekend as sophomores Bryan Woodall, Paul Burnside and Evan Crawford will get the call for the Tigers. The trio has a combined nine wins this season and has an ERA of just 3.09 on the year.

At the plate, Josh Donaldson continues to lead the way for the Tigers with an average of .405 with eight home runs and 32 RBI. Behind him Mike Bianucci is the other true power threat for Auburn with six home runs and 21 RBI to go along with a .351 average. A player to watch this weekend could be true freshman Joseph Sanders. Coming up big with two doubles in Wednesday's win, Sanders is hitting .297 on the season with four doubles and eight RBI in just 37 at-bats.

Game times for the weekend 5 p.m. CDT on Friday night and then 1 p.m. CDT on both Saturday and Sunday. There is no television for the series.

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