Tigers Face Must-Win Situation Against UK

Auburn faces Kentucky needing to win the series versus the Wildcats to stay alive in the race for the SEC Tournament.

Auburn, Ala.--With only two conference series remaining in the regular season, Auburn finds itself in a world of trouble as the Tigers need a very strong finish to have any chance of playing in the postseason in the first year of the John Pawlowski Era on the Plains..

Currently 27-22 overall and 8-16 in SEC play, Auburn trails Vanderbilt by two and a half games and Kentucky by one game in the conference standings, but has a chance to move up this weekend as the Tigers face the Wildcats in Lexington.

The good news for Auburn is that Kentucky has been good for the Tigers in the past. Auburn has won seven consecutive series in Lexington against the Cats and won four straight series overall dating back to 2005.

Despite winning just four of its last 10 games, Kentucky has won two of its last three series to move into contention for eighth place in the standings heading into the weekend. With a 24-23 overall record and 9-15 in SEC play, the Wildcats will make for a tough challenge for Auburn this weekend. Pawlowski says the team has to focus on itself and what they need to do in order to keep the hope alive.

"Our backs are against the wall," Pawlowski says. "We've had a couple of very good days of practice and have tried to keep the pressure off these guys and let them understand that we're just going up there and play. Let the chips fall where they may. They understand the importance of each and every game from here on out.

"We've just got to go do the things we're capable of doing and see what happens," the coach adds. "We've put ourselves in this position because of the way we've played down the home stretch. Hopefully we can regain some confidence and play well this weekend."

For Auburn the task is made tougher this weekend facing a Kentucky staff that is very strong at the top with left-handed pitching. James Paxton gets the Friday start and enters the weekend 5-2 with a 5.40 ERA. On Saturday crafty Chris Rusin (5-4, 4.07) will be on the mound for the first time since striking out 13 last weekend against Tennessee.

"You're looking at three of maybe the most talented starting pitchers in the conference this weekend," Pawlowski says. "On Friday night Paxton is a guy who has a chance to be a first or second round draft pick. Their Saturday guy Rusin has been around and is a three-pitch guy with great numbers. Their Sunday guy turned down a lot of money out of high school to go to Kentucky. They are talented on the front end for sure. It's a concern because Friday and Saturday both of those guys are left-handed."

Without Joseph Sanders in the lineup from the right side, Auburn will again depend on lefties getting it done as freshman Dan Gamache will likely remain in the lineup at third base for the Tigers. Since Sanders' injury the Rhode Island native is 10-27 at the plate with two home runs and nine RBI. Pawlowski says Gamache is playing well enough to stay in the lineup regardless of who Auburn is facing.

"I think he's one of our better options," Pawlowski says. "He's left-handed and both of those guys are left-handed. We're just going to run out our best guys whether they are left-handed or right-handed. At this point in the season I think it matters not. We've been put in that position the majority of the year and with Joe Sanders out it completely changed our whole lineup."

On the mound Auburn will counter with the same rotation from the last two weekends with freshman Jon Luke Jacobs (3-4, 6.23) on the mound Friday night, sophomore Grant Dayton (2-5, 5.61) on Saturday and freshman Dexter Price (3-2, 5.74) on Sunday.

Game times for the weekend series are 5:30 p.m. CDT on Friday, 6 p.m. on Saturday and noon on Sunday.

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