Auburn, Ala.--Looking to rebound following a sweep at the hands of Florida last weekend to open SEC play, the Auburn Tigers (12-8, 0-3) take on the number two team in the country this weekend when the Kentucky Wildcats (18-0, 3-0) come to Plainsman Park for a three-game series.
"We know Kentucky is very talented ball club," Coach Tommy Slater said. "Obviously their record is pretty gaudy. Their offensive numbers and pitching numbers are pretty impressive. We're looking forward to the challenge."
Hoping to avoid the early season doldrums that have affected his team in recent years, Slater said that he wasn‘t pleased with what he saw out of his team against the Gators, but a comeback victory against Troy on Tuesday night was exactly what he has been looking for. Playing with excitement and energy, the Tigers overcame a late deficit to get the win. Slater said it wasn‘t as much about the victory as it was the way his team went about it.
"I thought it was as much about how we played as the end result," Slater said. "I think by playing the way we did with a lot of energy, there was a lot of energy in the dugout and on the field, to play with that type of energy and that emotion that the kids showed to have the comeback victory is going to make them feel good. It's more about the way we played. I'm glad we didn't lose, but if we had I still would have been pleased with the way we approached the game."
The Tigers will have to be very good on the mound this weekend as they face perhaps the SEC's most dangerous offensive team in Kentucky. Hitting .364 as a team with 26 home runs, the Wildcats have outscored their opposition 182-44 this season. Leading the charge is Sawyer Carroll with a remarkable .532 average, seven home runs and 32 RBI. Right behind him is Collin Cowgill, hitting .388 with five home runs, 21 RBI and 11-12 on stolen bases.
"They've got two really experienced guys in the middle of their lineup," Slater said. "Collin Cowgill was hurt most of last year. Collin was at the USA Trials with us two years ago and he's a lot like (Mike) Bianucci. They are very similar hitters. Sawyer Carroll, I really liked him a year ago. He was a kid that was not a high draft pick, about a 24th-rounder, who decided to come back to school. Any time you can get two experienced, veteran guys like those two to come back in the middle of your lineup that makes the rest of your lineup better."
Junior Mike Bianucci has to get rolling on offense if the Tigers hope to make some noise in the SEC.
Things don't get much easier at the plate as Kentucky's pitching is among the best in the country early in the 2008 season with a team ERA of 2.08 and only 38 walks this year. Friday night junior lefty Chris Rusin (3-0, 2.37) gets the call with junior right hander Scott Green (2-0, 1.64) on Saturday. Rounding out the weekend may be the best of the bunch in senior Greg Dombrowski (4-0, 1.27). Throw in reliever James Paxton (2-0, 0.49) and you have an imposing pitching staff for the Wildcats.
Auburn will counter with a different rotation this weekend as redshirt freshman Grant Dayton (1-1, 3.60) will remain the Friday night starter with true freshman Cory Luckie (2-2, 2.05) moving from Sunday to Saturday. The third game starter will be junior Luke Greinke (2-1, 3.33) coming off his most impressive outing of the year Tuesday night at Troy.
The Tigers will need some big play out of the offense this weekend and it may depend on the performance of junior Mike Bianucci. Hitting .329 this season with three home runs and 18 RBI, in the last five games Bianucci is just 3-20 with three runs and no RBI. Picking up the slack has been a pair of freshmen as Justin Hargett (.369, 8 RBI) and Hunter Morris (.354, 4 HR, 18 RBI) are one-two on the team in hitting.
Game times for the weekend series are 6 p.m. on Friday, 3 p.m. on Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday.