Battle Of The Tigers In "The Box"

Auburn takes on LSU this weekend in a three-game series at Alex Box Stadium.

Auburn, Ala.--Looking to get back in the SEC race with a strong weekend on the road at LSU, the Auburn Tigers will need to play well at a place where they have had some success in recent years.

Auburn won its last series at Alex Box Stadium and and the Tigers won four of their last seven series at LSU so the precedent is there for Auburn to come away with at least two wins at LSU. For that to happen, Auburn will need to play better than it has in recent weeks.

Getting off a fast start this season in the pre-conference portion of the baseball schedule, Auburn has struggled in SEC play with just one win against Ole Miss last Sunday to go with eight losses. While it would mean the season was ruined in most sports, Coach Tommy Slater says his team understands there is a lot of baseball left to play this year, beginning with this weekend's series.

"We've got great kids and we've got some talented kids," Slater says. "I have really enjoyed coaching these guys. They have come to work each day. They haven't stopped. They have gone about their business the right way.

"They have a lot of belief in themselves and they are looking at it as a baseball season, knowing that it's a long one and knowing that we've had a really good stretch run and a stretch run here where it hasn't been so good. Our kids are coming to the yard every single day thinking they are going to win."

To do that, Auburn will have to take care of a LSU team that sits at 17-13-1 overall and 3-5-1 in SEC play. Coming off their best series of the year in a win at Alabama, the Bengal Tigers are playing better baseball but are a far cry from the championship teams of the Skip Bertman Era.

In the past, when you spoke of LSU baseball it usually began with a powerful offense and a deep pitching staff before you got to problem areas. This year the offense and relief pitching are the two problem areas for a Bengal Tiger team that has struggled with consistency all season long. The mostconsistent area has been starting pitching. All three of LSU's starters enter the weekend with earned run averages under 4.00 while the overall team ERA is 5.10.

LSU will send junior Charlie Furbush to the mound to face Auburn's Paul Burnside to open the series. Currently 3-3 on the season with a 3.97 ERA, Furbush gives LSU a very talented Friday night starter.

Saturday it will be freshman Taylor Thompson on the mound for Auburn against sophomore Ryan Byrd (4-0, 3.48 ERA) for LSU while Justin Bristow gets his first SEC start on Sunday against LSU's T.J. Forrest (1-1, 3.18). Slater says while all three are talented, Furbush is the guy that sets the tempo for LSU on Friday night.

"In Furbush I see a quality, legit weekend starter that could be anybody's Friday or Saturday guy," Slater says. "He's a transfer in who dominated the Cape Cod League last summer and decided to transfer. I see a left-hander that is good enough to dominate anybody. I watched him on film and he really went through South Carolina's hitters fairly easily a couple of weeks ago. He's a classic big, power lefty. He's a guy that's pretty good."

That LSU pitching staff will face an Auburn team that could be without two of its top performers Luke Greinke and Mike Bianucci. Out since last Sunday with a strained hip flexor, Greinke didn't practice this week, but will make the trip to Baton Rouge. Bianucci suffered a strained AC in his left shoulder while banging into the wall late in Tuesday's win over South Alabama. He will also make the trip and Slater says both are day-to-day.

Freshman Dustin Spruill has four RBI in conference in just 21 at-bats.

If neither are able to go you can expect Auburn to use sophomore Ben Jones in left field while freshman Joseph Sanders will see action at first base. Behind the plate will be Ryan Jenkins with freshman Dustin Spruill in the designated hitter role.

It looks strange to check out the stat sheet for a LSU baseball team and see a team not getting the job done at the plate. That is the case this year as LSU's team batting average of .249 and just 26 home runs in 31 games has left the Tigers unable to pound opponents into submission like they have done so many times in the past.

Blake Dean (.333, 2 HR, 14 RBI) is the only regular in the LSU lineup hitting above .300 coming into the series this weekend. Several talented and veteran players are struggling to find their way in 2007, but have the capability to break out at any time. Jared Mitchell (.285, 14 stolen bases), Michael Hollander (.269, 3 HR), J.T. Wise (.240, 6 doubles) and Jordan Mayer (.209, 6, 21 RBI) are all players that Slater says are guys you must worry about when you face LSU.

"Offensively what I have watched of their hitters, the Mitchell kid really looks like an exciting player," Slater says. "He is their Bruce (Bruce Edwards) but more physical. He's an exciting-looking player. J.T. Wise is a very capable hitter, a very good hitter. Mayer is a very dangerous hitter at first base. The shortstop Hollander has been around, this is his third year as a starter. They've got some quality players. It's just like any other SEC weekend."

Game times for the weekend series are 7 p.m. on Friday, 3 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday.

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