Hitting safely in all four games last week and all seven this season, Bell had his true breakout game Friday night when Auburn overcame a 10-1 deficit to take a 14-13 victory over Virginia. He went 3-for-5 with a game-tying home run and four runs batted in to lead the Tigers to the comeback win. Bell hit his second home run of the series the very next day and enters this week's competition hitting .393 on the season.
Auburn will need all of Bell's work to continue this week when it plays four games against 2002 NCAA Regional teams at Plainsman Park. Having already played three games against a tournament team in VCU, the Tigers host South Alabama Tuesday at 3 p.m. in a game that has always been tough for Tiger teams in the past. Trailing the all-time series against the Jaguars 37-15, Auburn hopes to cut into that advantage with a victory. The Tigers enter the game with a record of 6-1 and ranked 16th in the country by Baseball America while South Alabama comes in at 0-4 after losing a single game to San Diego State and being swept by USC, all last week.
Hoping to find his rhythm, Auburn will send junior Eric Brandon to the mound against the Jaguars. Currently 0-0 on the season but sporting an ERA of 7.04 in 7 2/3 innings this season, Brandon has been either hot or cold for much of the last two seasons. If he were able to find the magic it would be a tremendous boost for a pitching staff looking for consistency out of the starters. South Alabama will throw senior Tony Neal, who is 0-1 with a 2.25 earned run average this season.
While Bell has been a bright spot for the Tigers at the plate, the wealth has been spread up and down the lineup. At the bottom of the order Tug Hulett, Scott Schade and Chuck Jeroloman have combined to score 23 runs and have been good at setting the table for the top of the order to drive them home. Hitting .435 with 10 hits in 23 at-bats, Schade has been solid at the bottom of the order and has adjusted well to hitting the ball to all fields.
Sean Gamble falls just behind Schade at .423 on the season and has one home run and eight runs batted in, tied for the team lead. The sophomore has hit safely in 13-straight games dating back to last season and has a hit in 26 of his last 27 games played.
Perhaps the most balanced offensive club in recent Auburn baseball history, the Tigers boast five players with more than 10 hits already this season and have seven players hitting over .300 through seven games. After struggling at the plate in the opening series against VCU, Auburn has been hot lately and enters Tuesday's game hitting .325 as a team with seven home runs.
On the mound the story so far has been the performance of the Tiger bullpen, in particular Cory Dueitt, Levale Speigner and closer Steven Register. The trio has a combined record of 4-1 already with three saves. Doing what is expected of relief pitchers, they have struck out 31 hitters in just 24 1/3 innings of work. If Auburn can get production out of Brandon and the rest of the starters things look good for the Tigers to build on an early hot start and have a successful 2003 season.
The first pitch for Tuesday's game is scheduled for 3 p.m. and will begin a tough week for the Tigers. Friday at 3 p.m. they face the 19th-ranked Clemson Tigers for the first game of a three-game set at Plainsman Park. Game times are scheduled for 2 p.m. on Saturday and 1:30 p.m. on Sunday.