Tigers Heading To Desert To Face Sun Devils

Auburn will face the undefeated Arizona State Sun Devils this weekend in a three-game series in Tempe.

Auburn, Ala.--With a 9-2 record early in the 2010 season, the Auburn Tigers have showed some good signs on the baseball diamond in the second year under the direction of coach John Pawlowski. Even though the early schedule has provided some challenges, the competition will be on a different level this weekend as the Tigers travel to the desert to face the 12-0 and second-ranked Arizona State Sun Devils in a three-game series.

It will be Auburn's first trip to Packard Stadium since being outscored 34-6 in a three-game sweep in 2006. While the Tigers are a different team than the one that got bombed back then, it won't be any easier this time around considering the Sun Devils have 22 players on the roster that have been drafted and ASU was 36-4 last season at home on the way to a College World Series berth. Pawlowski said it will be a great measuring stick for his team heading into conference play next weekend against Georgia on the road.

"I think as we want to move our program forward and get a chance to compete at the highest level, we have a chance to do that in our conference every weekend," Pawlowski said. "When you have a chance to play a team like Arizona State, a team that has national recognition, they are 12-0 and in the top three in the country, that's what we see in our conference. I think it will be a great opportunity for our kids to go out there and compete and to see where we are at. If we want to be the best we've got to beat the best. This is a great opportunity for us."

Arizona State has done it both ways this season as they've dominated at the plate and on the mound. Hitting .372 as a team while holding opponents to a paltry .223 average, the Sun Devils are led by Pac-10 Player of the Week and National Player of the Week Zack McPhee. The second baseman is hitting a sizzling .564 with a home run, 16 RBI, and an incredible seven triples.

Also tearing it up early in the season are Austin Barnes (.455, 1 HR, 7 RBI) and Riccio Torrez (.395, 2, 11) while veteran captain Raoul Torrez is also a threat at the plate. McPhee leads the team with seven stolen bases as the Sun Devils are 34-41 this season on the base paths.

Faced with the challenge of slowing down the Sun Devils will be an Auburn pitching staff that has been up and down the first three weeks of the season. While junior Cole Nelson has been fantastic in his role on Sunday with a 3-0 record and an ERA of just 1.40. The problem has been inconsistency on Friday and Saturday from Jon Luke Jacobs (0-1, 7.07) and Grant Dayton (1-1, 6.14).

Two of Auburn's most experienced starters, the duo have both been good early in games, but have struggled to carry starts past the fifth inning. Looking to change things up this week, the Tigers send sophomore Cory Luckie (0-0, 3.38) to the mound on Friday night after he missed his scheduled start against Alabama on Tuesday. Coming back from Tommy John surgery, Luckie will be making his first weekend start since April of 2008 at Alabama.

"I would say Cory Luckie is a new guy because last year he didn't even pitch for us," Pawlowski said. "I think his development has really come along. He had a couple of relief appearances and then a great start against Davidson last Wednesday. He's had some real positive things. We know we've got to keep getting better. Our starting pitching at times has been outstanding and then getting into the fifth and sixth inning we've struggled some. We've got to look at that and try to solve the puzzle. I like the way the kids have gone about their business. We've played good at times and played poorly at times, but I like the resiliency of this team."

With his performance this season Nelson will make the move to Saturday with a possible combination of Jacobs and Dayton on Sunday if neither have been used to that point. I addition to the possible starters, Pawlowski singled out junior Stephen Kohlscheen and freshman Slade Smith for recent outings on the mound. Pitching for Arizona State on Friday night is Seth Blair (2-0, 3.38) with Merrill Kelly (3-0, 4.20) on Saturday. Like Auburn, the Sun Devils are TBA on Sunday.

At the plate Auburn is hitting a crisp .373 as a team led by junior left fielder Brian Fletcher. Hitting .467, Fletcher has six home runs and 24 RBI this season. He's one of four regulars for the Tigers hitting over .400 with Hunter Morris (.423), Tony Caldwell (.415) and Creede Simpson (.413) all putting up big numbers so far in 2010.

Game times for the weekend are 7:30 p.m. central time on both Friday and Saturday with a 2 p.m. scheduled start on Sunday.

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