Tigers Hoping For Big Series Against Ole Miss

Auburn takes on Ole Miss this weekend in the next to last home series for the Tigers.

Auburn, Ala.--Auburn coach John Pawlowski is hoping two big offensive games during the week are just what the doctor ordered for the Tigers as they take on the powerful Ole Miss Rebels this weekend at Plainsman Park. After being swept last weekend at LSU, Auburn is currently 8-13 in conference play and needs a big weekend to stay in the hunt for a berth in the SEC Tournament in Hoover.

If Auburn is fortunate enough to make the postseason, much of the credit will go to the offense and in particular the Tigers' power game. Leading the nation in home runs with 97 entering Friday night's game, Auburn has already eclipsed the school record by 10 home runs with 10 games remaining in the season.

Without leading home run man and RBI producer Joseph Sanders for the second consecutive weekend after he was hit in the face and broke his cheek bone, Auburn still has plenty of firepower with Trent Mummey, Brian Fletcher, Hunter Morris and Ben Jones all in double figures in home runs. Pawlowski said that having a veteran team this season has paid dividends at the plate.

"I really think it has to do with the maturity factor of the guys we have in our program," Pawlowski said. "Our hitting coaches (Matt Heath and Jeff Duncan) do a great job. They have played and have a lot of experience. I think the bottom line is that we've got some guys in our lineup that have been through the SEC. They've gotten stronger.

"The biggest thing in my mind is the maturity factor. You can work all you want and put the time and effort into it, but until you've been through it and had enough at-bats in this league it takes time to be successful. We've been successful hitting home runs, which is good and bad. We also strike out a good bit, but it has kept us in and won us some ballgames."

Auburn will need all the firepower it can muster offensively this weekend when the Rebels bring in one of the top pitching staffs in the country. Second in the league with a 4.04 ERA, Ole Miss will start sophomore lefty Drew Pomeranz on Friday night. With a record of 4-2 on the season, he has an ERA of 3.49 and has 51 and walked just 19 on the year.

Saturday's starter is Phillip Irwin (5-3, 4.01 ERA) and is strong in his own right, but the star of the group is Scott Bittle. A closer last season for the Rebels, Bittle is 5-2 with a 2.17 ERA in 13 appearances this season with five starts. Opponents are hitting just .175 against Bittle and he has struck out 68 and walked just 11 this season.

"Their Friday night guy, next year in my mind Pomeranz will be a first round draft pick," Pawlowski said. "They've got a Sunday starter who was a second round draft pick. Everybody says Sunday is going to be tough because he goes seven innings and gives up one or two hits every outing. They've got a closer also. The pitching staff is one of the better ones we're going to see from top to bottom."

At the plate Ole Miss is hitting .308 as a team, but has just 42 home runs and 87 doubles on the year. Because of that the Rebels have been forced to manufacture runs and they do so with great success. The team is 68-89 in the stolen base department and has struck out less than 100 times more than they've walked on the year.

Leading the way is Jordan Henry, hitting .354 with 28 stolen bases. The power is supplied by a group of players as three Rebels have six home runs, but the danger comes from veteran Logan Power. He's hitting .302 with five home runs and a team-high 40 RBI. Pawlowski said Ole Miss is dangerous because anyone in the lineup can beat you.

"Their offense is balanced," Pawlowski said. "They have almost as many walks and hit by pitches as strikeouts. That's incredible. That's how balanced their offense is."

Auburn will counter with freshman Jon Luke Jacobs (3-3, 5.75) on Friday, sophomore Grant Dayton (2-4, 5.06) on Saturday and freshman Dexter Price (3-1, 5.40) on Sunday.

While Auburn's offense is loaded with power, consistency has been a problem. That's one of the reasons that the emergence of freshman designated hitter Dan Gamache has been important. Hitting .448 this season with three homers and 10 RBI in just 29 at-bats, Gamache hits from the left side, but Pawlowski said he'll get his chance this weekend because of the way he's been playing.

"I think at this point in the season we're just going to go with our hottest hitters," Pawlowski said. "He's left-hander and Pomeranz is left-handed and has a great breaking ball. We're just a little thin from the right side. We'll run Danny out there and try to find a way to get on base."

Game times for the weekend series are 6 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday. Saturday and Sunday can be seen live on CSS.

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