Tigers Open SEC Baseball Schedule At Georgia

Auburn is on the road to open SEC play on the baseball diamond as the Tigers face the Georgia Bulldogs in a three-game series.

Athens, Ga.--After a tough trip last weekend to Arizona State as Auburn was swept by the Sun Devils, the Tigers (11-5) return to the road this weekend as they travel to face the Georgia Bulldogs (8-9) in the opening weekend of SEC play.

Despite a losing record at the moment, Auburn coach John Pawlowski says don't be fooled by wins and losses for UGA because the Bulldogs are a talented team.

"Some teams have played some great competition and I think Georgia is one of those," Pawlowski says. "You look at Georgia's overall record and you can throw them out the window. They've played some great teams. They've played Baylor twice, Georgia Tech, Alabama, Florida State, and Stetson three times.

"They've played some great teams. Records don't indicate the amount of talent and level of play they've faced so far. We're looking forward to it."

A key to most successful seasons is getting off to a good start and that is exactly what Auburn is looking for this weekend at Foley Field in Athens. Auburn's last winning record in SEC play came in 2003 and it was also the last time the Tigers made the SEC Tournament.

Junior first baseman Hunter Morris says this weekend is huge for the team to build some momentum early.

"Everything leading up to this point has been really important for our team coming together and even with the injuries, finding guys to fill holes," Morris says. "We've had a lot of guys step up and do a great job. Obviously the most important part of our season is the SEC. The last couple of years we've gotten off to a decent start, but it slowed down pretty quick. It's important for us to get off on the right foot and carry that on through the rest of the season."

Even with injury concerns early in the 2010 season and lasting into this weekend, the biggest question mark for the Tigers remains pitching. The Tigers will stick with the same rotation as last weekend as sophomore Cory Luckie (0-0, 7.45 ERA) will pitch on Friday night with junior Cole Nelson (3-0, 3.74) getting the Saturday start. Things however could be very different on Sunday.

Cole Nelson has been Auburn's most effective starting pitcher.

Last weekend sophomore Jon Luke Jacobs (0-2, 7.41) got the start against Arizona State while fellow early season starter Grant Dayton (1-1, 7.47) came on in relief. They have been two consistent parts of Auburn's rotation for much of the last year, but Pawlowski said this weekend they may be used out of the bullpen if needed because Sunday's game may become a case of whoever is left.

"Those guys know they were in relief these last two games if we needed them," Pawlowski says. "I think it's going to be one of those things where it's all hands on deck Sunday if we haven't used one particular guy, whether it's Grant or Jon Luke or maybe it's somebody totally new like a Bradley Hendrix or Sean Ray.

"The old cliché is one game at a time and that's so important when you get to conference play," he adds. "If we have to use those guys in relief they'll be ready to go."

Auburn's pitching staff will face a Georgia offense that has been explosive at times this season. Hitting .298 as a team, the Bulldogs are led by Christian Glisson's .396 average while Zach Cone has been red hot at .382 with a home run and 16 RBI.

The Power in the lineup comes mainly from Peter Verdin. Hitting .306, he has a team-high five home runs and is tied with Cone for the team lead in RBI with 16.

On the mound the Bulldogs will send sophomore right-hander Michael Palazzone (3-1, 7.85) out on Friday night and junior righty Justin Grimm (1-1, 5.40) gets the call on Saturday. Veteran Jeff Walters (0-1, 8.83) will start on Sunday for Georgia. They come in with a team ERA of 7.22 and the Bulldogs have allowed 190 hits in just 147 innings this season.

"We're going to see power arms," Pawlowski says. "I'm looking at the scouting report and the arm strength that these guys have is impressive. All three of their starters have plus-plus fastballs. They have high velocity. They are talented and have a lot of arm strength. It will be a great challenge for us on an important weekend."

It has been another challenging week from an injury standpoint for the Tigers as leading hitter Brian Fletcher (.421, 7 HR, 26 RBI) and second baseman Justin Hargett (.338, 8 2B, 10 RBI) both missed the mid-week games because of a sore leg and shoulder respectively. Pawlowski says it's going to be day-to-day this weekend to see how much both will play, but he's hopeful have four days off will allow them to be ready to go on Friday night.

One player who should be back is junior outfielder Justin Fradejas. Out since the opening weekend because of a hand injury, Fradejas was scheduled to start Wednesday night against Alabama A&M, but an emergency root canal kept him out of the lineup until very late in the game.

His return should bolster what is still a potent Auburn offense. Hitting .349 as a team with a league-leading 25 home runs, Auburn has Morris back swinging well as he's hitting .380 with four homers and 17 RBI. Third baseman Dan Gamache (.380), shortstop Casey McElroy (.364), outfielder/catcher Tony Caldwell (.345) and outfielder Creede Simpson (.338) have all been solid to star the year and are capable of delivering for the Tigers.

Game times for the weekend series at Georgia are scheduled for 6 p.m. CDT on Friday night (televised on CSS), 2 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday

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