Auburn Travels to LSU Without Top Hitter

Auburn's John Pawlowski talks about facing LSU without the injured Joseph Sanders and the challenge for his club.

Auburn, Ala.--A loss to Samford on Tuesday night dropped the Auburn Tigers to 25-16 overall, but that's not the major reason for major concern for Coach John Pawlowski's club.

A bigger concern is that in the first inning of the game junior third baseman Joseph Sanders was hit by a pitch and suffered cracked bones in his jaw.

Now out for possibly the next month, Auburn will be missing its leading hitter in terms of batting average, RBI, home runs, and doubles. That's not good as the Tigers hit the road this weekend to face the sixth-ranked LSU Tigers in a three-game series at the new Alex Box Stadium.

Sander has hit 18 home runs this season.

"It doesn't get any easier," Pawlowski says. "You go into a tough environment with one of your better players out. We'll see how competitive we are. We're really going to have to go in there and play some solid baseball in order to be successful at LSU."

Currently 8-10 in SEC play, Auburn is looking to stay within striking distance of the leaders in the Western Division, currently just three and a half games out of first place.

The other goal is to stay ahead of the bottom four in the league to qualify for the SEC Tournament. Auburn is in eighth place in the standings, a half-game ahead of Vanderbilt and two games ahead of both Kentucky and Mississippi State.

As for LSU, the Bayou Bengals are fighting to move to the top of the heap at the moment at 29-12, 11-7 in conference action. They are a half-game behind Arkansas for the Western Division lead and two games behind Georgia for the overall lead in the SEC. That includes a rough time last week when LSU lost two of three to Tennessee at home. Even with the losses, Pawlowski says Auburn will face a very tough challenge this weekend.

"They are very talented top to bottom," Pawlowski notes "They can pitch it. They can hit it. When you look at the number they have and the roster and the talent, they are very, very talented. When you look at it top to bottom they are right at the top of the league. Then you are going into an environment where they are very tough at home. It's a great challenge for us."

Leading LSU's balanced offense is Sean Ochinko. Hitting .351, he has seven homers and 40 RBI and his eight doubles are second on the team. He is one of six regulars hitting over .300 this season and seven Tiger hitters have at least four home runs. For the season LSU has 63 home runs and is hitting .309 as a team.

The Bengal Tigers have also been solid on the mound. A team ERA of just 4.34 is highlighted by Louis Coleman's performance. A reliever earlier this year, Coleman has moved into a starting role this season and has flourished. In 14 appearances, seven starts, Coleman is 8-2 with a 2.54 ERA with opponents hitting just .214.

He's just the key part of a pitching staff that the Auburn Tigers will have to face without Sanders. Auburn's best right-handed hitter, Sanders' absence leaves a huge hole in the middle of the order for the Tigers. Pawlowski says that sophomore Wes Gilmer and freshmen Chezz McCann and Dan Gamache are all possibilities at third base this weekend. Combined the trio has just 54 at-bats this season with 15 combined base hits.

Without one of its leaders, Auburn will try to pull off the upset against one of the top teams in the country. Pawlowski says while it won't be easy, his team needs to rally and play its best baseball of the season beginning this weekend.

"We have to find something that we can attach ourselves to," he says. "We have to find something that we can believe in, something that can push us over the hump so to speak. We still have a chance in the SEC. We're right in the hunt. This weekend becomes a very important weekend. Going in there without Joe, somebody else is going to have to step up."

Game times for the weekend series are 7 p.m. CDT on Friday, 3 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday.

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