Elon A Tough Opening Test For Baseball Tigers

Auburn opens the 2009 baseball season against NCAA Tournament team Elon on Friday.

Auburn, Ala.--First-year Auburn coach John Pawlowski and the Tigers will get a stern test to open the 2009 season whey they take on Elon in a three-game series at Plainsman Park beginning Friday at 3 p.m. Coming off a 44-18 season and an appearance in the NCAA Regionals, the Phoenix bring an experienced and talented team to Auburn to kick off the Pawlowski era.

One of the positives for Auburn is that Pawlowski knows a great deal about Elon after coaching in the same conference since 2000. He says that the Tigers better be ready because they're going to face a team primed to come in and get victories. Last season Elon defeated both North Carolina and Wake Forest and Pawlowski says he sees the same type of potential for this year's team.

"Elon is a team that is well coached," Pawlowski says. "Mike Kennedy does a great job there. They were picked to win that league and picked to go to a regional. They return seven of their starters. I think their strength lies in their offense too. They are a very disciplined team. We're going to have to play defense. If we don't play defense then what will happen is they'll pick you apart. They'll bunt and steal a base here. They'll walk here.

"We're going to have to pitch and play defense. I think that's going to be the key. Last year they had an early round pick in Steven Hensley who is gone. Their pitching staff looks a little differently, but when I look at their numbers they've got some arm strength and experience."

If offense is what you're looking for then Elon definitely brings that to the table heading into the 2009 season. The Phoenix lost just seven home runs and 76 RBI off last year's team, something that senior third baseman Bennett Davis can make up by himself. Last year he hit .350 with 18 home runs, 15 doubles, and 82 RBI. Also a big part of the offense will be senior Dallas Tarleton (.361, 7 HR, 50 RBI) and sophomore Chase Austin (.377, 9, 51).

Without question the most important player at the plate and on the mound for Elon is Cory Harrilchak. A Preseason All-American and Southern Conference Player of the Year, Harrilchak is perhaps the top two-way player in the country in 2009. Last season he became the first Elon player in 20 years to hit over .400 with his .410 batting average. He added 11 home runs, 12 doubles, five triples, 46 RBI and stole 24-25 bases. That's not the end of his game though as he was 7-3 on the mound with a 5.13 ERA.

In addition to Harrilchak on the mound, Elon returns five game winners Ken Ferrer and Thomas Girdwood. Elon's closer, Girdwood also added 10 saves. With the loss of Hensley's 10 wins and five from Jesse Lewter, Elon may rely on a strong offense early in the season. Still, they will be a very formidable task for the Tigers and Pawlowski says that means his team must play well in all phases of the game on the opening weekend.

"People in the college baseball world know what kind of program they have," Pawlowski says. "I have faced them many, many times and they'll be a tremendous challenge for us, but also an opportunity for us to see exactly where we stack up on this first weekend."

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