Coming into the series Auburn trails Tennessee and Kentucky by just one game in the race for Hoover and trail division leading LSU by two and a half games with six games left in conference play. Coach Tommy Slater said his team isn't satisfied with being in the hunt and right now their focus is on winning games and finishing strong.
"We just need to go out and play and play to win," Slater said. "Our kids have been doing that all year. They know the significance and importance of trying to win series. We'll go out there and try our best to win another series this weekend."
To accomplish that feat the Tigers will need another strong weekend on the mound against talented Ole Miss team that features one of the best pitching rotations in the country.
Friday night Auburn will send reigning SEC Freshman of the Week Grant Dayton to the mound looking for his seventh win in conference games. For the year Dayton is 7-1 with a 3.66 ERA. He will face off against junior Lance Lynn (6-2, 3.51) for the Rebels.
Grant Dayton is second in the SEC with six league wins this season.
Saturday and Sunday will again be different for Auburn as Slater said freshman Cory Luckie continues to be bothered by pain in his throwing forearm and won't make the trip to Ole Miss. Instead sophomore Taylor Thompson (2-5, 6.57) gets the ball in game two coming off a solid performance against Mississippi State while Luke Greinke (4-3, 4.09) will be on the hill on Sunday. Slater said both are pitching well at the moment and he's hoping that continues this weekend.
"He has been throwing the ball well out of the bullpen," Slater said of Thompson. "Coach (Butch) Thompson has done a really good job with Taylor. He's developed a good feel for the change, which has really helped him. He's had some very good relief outings the in the last few weeks. We weren't surprised by his outing at all. He's worked really hard and gotten better.
"That's Luke," Slater answered about his outing last weekend. "When he's healthy that's what he looks like. He was feeling good and he was healthy. He was down in the zone with his fastball and his slider had good tilt. When his arm is healthy and feeling good that's what he looks like. No surprises there either."
Ole Miss will counter with one of the nation's best freshmen in left Drew Pomeranz (4-1, 3.42) on Saturday and junior Cody Satterwhite (3-5, 5.13) on Sunday. Throw in closer Scott Bittle (4-1, 1.60, 7 Saves) and you have a very powerful pitching staff that has struck out 468 batters in just 446 innings this season.
"I think their pitching staff is a good looking pitching staff," Slater said. "You start with Lance Lynn on Friday who is very good. Pomeranz is throwing the ball real well for them on Saturdays and Satterwhite is really good on Sundays. Bittle's numbers are real impressive at the end of the game. They've got an outstanding pitching staff. It will be a good battle between our lineup and their pitching staff."
Auburn's lineup could get some help this week with a healthier Hunter Morris back in the swing of things. Banged up for two weeks with a sore side, the freshman seemed to get back to form late in the series against Mississippi State and Slater said they're hoping he'll be back at or close to full speed this weekend. If not they'll continue to use Joseph Sanders at first base in his absence and leave Morris as the designated hitter.
"He's been swinging the bat better," Slater said of Morris. "I thought Sunday he was really swinging it better. He actually slid into home plate and it didn't bang him up any at all."
Morris, who has been invited to try out for the USA Baseball's National Team for its world tour this summer, has been Auburn's most consistent hitter this season. He is hitting .359 with 10 homers plus 42 RBI and a .614 slugging percentage.
Game times for the weekend series against Ole Miss are scheduled for 6:30 on Friday night, 4 p.m. on Saturday and 1:30 on Sunday afternoon. There is no TV for the series.