Tigers Face Challenge At Vanderbilt

Auburn will try to get back on the winning track against the Vanderbilt Commodores this weekend in Nashville.

Auburn, Ala.--Following a sweep at home last weekend by South Carolina, the Auburn Tigers (22-16, 6-9) take to the road this weekend to face the surging Vanderbilt Commodores (26-10, 8-6) fresh off a sweep of Mississippi State on the road.

The Commodores have won five of the last six in the baseball.

To avoid a continuation of that trend the Tigers must find the spark that allowed them to win three straight series in the league in between sweeps at Florida and against the Gamecocks. A team that has been solid offensively this season, second in the league in hitting in conference games, Auburn has to hope that continues this weekend.

That's important because currently Auburn finds itself tied for 8th overall in the SEC with another road series next weekend at Alabama. Only the top eight teams make it to the SEC Tournament in Hoover at the end of the season. Coach Tommy Slater notes that right now his team is just focusing on winning games in the league and not worrying about the postseason.

"The main thing we look at is just the SEC record and doing our best to have a good enough record in the SEC to get ourselves in the SEC Tournament," Slater says. "I think as we sit here today there are three of us sitting in a three-way tie for eighth and there is another team right behind us. We're focusing on doing our best to win enough SEC games to be in position to be in the tournament. If you're in the tournament there typically your RPI will be good enough to get an at-large (NCAA Tournament)."

Led by All-American Pedro Alvarez, who is back for the third series after an injury kept him sidelined for the first month of the season, the junior has spurred on an offensive onslaught from the Commodores. Last weekend Vanderbilt swept Mississippi State and scored 35 runs in the process. Throw in 13 more runs in mid-week wins over Lipscomb and Western Kentucky and Coach Tommy Slater says you have a dangerous team at the plate.

"I think getting Pedro back has really helped their offense, particularly in the league," he says. "He's the best player in the league, that's my opinion. I think you've seen their team batting average over the last two weeks raise by about 25 points. Any time you add a player of his caliber to the middle of your lineup it just makes everybody better. All of these guys are good, but when you have the best player in the country in the middle of your lineup it makes you that much better."

Hitting .288 with three home runs and nine RBI in just 13 games this season, Alvarez is part of a solid Vanderbilt lineup that is led by David Macias. Hitting .394 this season, Macias has six home runs and 19 RBI. Veterans Alex Feinberg (.354), Ryan Flaherty (.326, 8 HR) and Dominic de la Osa (.289, 16 stolen bases) complete what is an offense that is capable of doing damage from 1-9.

A turnaround from Mike Bianucci would be big for the Tigers this weekend.

Auburn counters with a very similar offense in terms of numbers. The Tigers are hitting .310 compared to .304 for the Commodores. Leading the way is freshman Hunter Morris at .362 with eight home runs and 37 RBI. He has been even better in SEC games at .467, five homers and 17 runs batted in. Fellow freshman Trent Mummey is next at .333 with three home runs, 15 RBI and a team-high 12 stolen bases. Junior Mike Bianucci is third on the team with a .326 average, five home runs and 28 RBI, but is hitting just .267 in conference games with one home run and five RBI.

On Wednesday night sophomore third baseman Joseph Sanders was out of the lineup in favor of redshirt freshman David Cunningham. Sick on Sunday with a virus, Sanders was held out of the mid-week game with Slater saying it was a matter between he and Sanders. Slater says that Sanders will be out this weekend as well with Cunningham, the full time third baseman. Cunningham is hitting .396 with 19 hits in 49 at-bats in 2008.

The pitching matchups should be entertaining this weekend as redshirt freshman Grant Dayton (4-1, 3.72 ERA) faces off against talented lefty Mike Minor (4-2, 3.95) on Friday night, freshman lefty Cory Luckie (4-3, 3.54) versus freshman right-hander Caleb Cotham (5-2, 3.22) on Saturday and freshman Bradley Hendrix (1-0, 4.74) up against junior right-hander Nick Christiani (4-1, 3.57) on Sunday. Game times are 6 p.m. on Friday, noon on Saturday in a game televised by CSS, and 1 p.m. on Sunday.

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