Entering the weekend on a roll, Auburn (22-12 overall, 6-6 SEC) will attempt to defeat the Gamecocks (22-10, 6-6) in a series for the first time since 1997 and keep in the race in the Western Division with Ole Miss, which is a game ahead of the Tigers at 7-5.
Since defeating the Gamecocks two out of three back in March of 1997, Auburn has won just six of the last 27 meetings between the two schools including games in the SEC Tournament. Making things even stranger is that of Auburn's 21 losses, nine have been by one run.
Auburn coach Tommy Slater said that South Carolina has been very good under Ray Tanner and been difficult for everyone in the league for the last decade.
"I don't think it's so much about Auburn, you really have to focus on South Carolina," Slater says "Really, since Skip (Bertman) retired at LSU in 2000, since we've been in this new millennium, South Carolina has been the team in our league. They've been the more world series than anybody else. They've been at the top of our league more than anybody else, and they've been in the Top 10 more than anybody else. The thing that hasn't changed is Ray Tanner.
"We've talked a lot about since 1997 Auburn hasn't beaten them," Slater added. "My guess is that based on the numbers a lot of people haven't beaten them."
South Carolina comes in with one of the more powerful offensive teams in the country with four players having at least nine home runs already this season. A veteran lineup led by Reese Havens (.378, 10 HR, 38 RBI), the Gamecocks have production and power up and down the order. One of the nation's most talented players, Justin Smoak, comes in hitting .359 with nine home runs and 27 RBI. James Darnell leads the way with 12 home runs and 46 RBI and is also hitting .341. As a team, South Carolina is hitting .308 with opponents just .246.
Entering the weekend the Auburn Tigers are second in hitting in SEC games at .313 through 12 games with Kentucky leading the way at .319. The Tigers are fifth in runs scored and tied for second in doubles with 24. Leading the way are a pair of freshmen in Hunter Morris and Brian Fletcher.
Hunter Morris leads Auburn with six home runs this season.
One and two in the SEC in batting average for conference games, Morris (.478) and Fletcher (.462) have been a huge part of Auburn's recent success that has seen the Tigers win six of nine SEC since being swept at Florida. Slater says the production coming from the freshmen is something that hasn't surprised him in the least.
"They're fearless," he says "They really are. They are both very good hitters and we knew that coming in. Hunter's plate discipline is just phenomenal for a freshman. Brian has bat speed, he really goes. He's aggressive and he's fearless, too. I can't say enough about those two. They're fun to watch play, they really are."
While Auburn's offensive production has been good this season, one area where Auburn has struggled is in home runs. Last in the league with just five in league games, the Tigers face their polar opposites this weekend as South Carolina is tied for the conference lead with 19 homers in 12 games. Slater says while the ultimate power detector hasn't shown up much for the Tigers, they are getting the job done in other ways.
"We have 120 extra-base hits," Slater points out. "I can say this because I've coached at Florida, we hit a lot of doubles here that are home runs in other parks in this league. Our park plays as fair as any park in the league, and by fair I mean to the pitcher. Home run totals here have never been huge and I think a lot of it has to do because we play in a bigger park basically than everybody but Mississippi State. When you look at the fact that we have 84 doubles and 11 triples we're still driving the baseball."
The weekend pitching matchups look to be very good as redshirt freshman Grant Dayton (4-1, 3.29 ERA) takes the hill on Friday night against junior right hander Mike Cisco (4-1, 4.30) for South Carolina. On Saturday true freshman Cory Luckie (4-3, 3.31) will start versus junior lefty Will Atwood (3-1, 3.71) for the Gamecocks. Another true freshman will get the call on Sunday as Bradley Hendrix (1-0, 4.95) takes on sophomore right hander Blake Cooper (3-3, 3.32) for South Carolina.
Auburn will have a full complement of guys in the bullpen with Luke Greinke available once again after pitching well in a Tuesday night win over Georgia State.
After defeating Arkansas on Sunday and winning midweek games vs. Georgia State and Mississippi Valley State, the Tigers are looking for a fourth straight victory as they open their series on Friday evening.
Game times for the weekend are 6 p.m. on Friday, 3 p.m. on Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday.