It's Tigers vs. Tigers At Plainsman Park

Auburn will take on number three LSU in a key SEC Western Division showdown this weekend at Plainsman Park.

Auburn, Ala.--With a record of 20-10 overall and 5-4 in SEC play, Auburn has put itself in position to be a player in the Southeastern Conference baseball race once again. Just how much may be determined after this weekend as the 25-4 LSU Tigers roll into Plainsman Park as the leader in the division and defending national champions.

In fact the weekend is important enough that coach John Pawlowski and several players as coaches went out on the Auburn campus on Wednesday to pass out flyers reminding students about the weekend series.

A large and loud crowd would obviously be big this weekend of for the Tigers as they'll be facing one of the top teams in the country. Solid in every area with a .327 team batting average, 4.53 team ERA, 55 stolen bases and a fielding percentage of .976, LSU has done everything well to this point and it has shown up time and time again for coach Paul Manieri. Now Auburn is faced with the task of taking down the powerful Tigers led by a veteran offensive attack.

Micah Gibbs (.402, five HR, 31 RBI), Mikie Mahtook (.363, 6, 23), Leon Landry (.356, 3, 25), Blake Dean (.347, 4, 37) and Matt Gaudet (.316, 11, 36) provide the spark to the LSU lineup while veterans Tyler Hanover and Austin Nola provide the leather in the middle of the infield. When looking at LSU from top to bottom, Pawlowski said he hasn't seen too much that's not very good.

"I see a very experienced lineup," Pawlowski said. "When you look at not only their history, but what they did last year, you have guys that know how to handle the bat. They execute well. They can move guys over. They have performed and played at a high championship level meaning in Omaha and they know how to play. You can have all the talent, but the experience of knowing how to play is big. They've got some pop and you look at their speed too with 55 stolen bases. Their team ERA is good. They just do a lot of things well. They are a very good baseball team and they've shown it early in the season."

It's not just at the plate where LSU shines as big Anthony Ranaudo is back in his usual spot of Friday night starter after being eased into the rotation the last three weeks because of arm problems. Shut down early in the season, he is back and pitching extremely well with a 0.90 ERA in 10 innings this season. Likely still limited, he hasn't thrown more than four innings in a start this year but has still kept opponents to a paltry .121 batting average.

On Saturday lefty Chris Matulis has been equally as good with a 5-0 record and an ERA of 2.57. Opponents are hitting just .225 off him and he has allowed just 23 hits in 28 innings. Sunday's starter Joey Bourgeois is 3-1 with a 5.50 ERA in seven starts this season and is the lone question mark of the three to start the weekend. There is no question however who the Tigers will go to in crunch time. A dominant closer as a freshman last season, Matty Ott has picked up where he left off with 10 early saves and an ERA of 2.70. He has struck out 18 and walked just seven in 16 2/3 innings.

Big Cole Nelson will have the task of slowing down LSU on Friday night in one of the top pitching match-ups in the league this weekend.

For Auburn the pitching matchup will again be the story as the Tigers will move things around putting junior Cole Nelson into the Friday night slot. At 4-1 with a 3.29 ERA, Nelson has been outstanding in SEC play with a 2.79 ERA in three starts. He'll be joined in the rotation by junior Grant Dayton, who has also been extremely good in league play with a 3-0 record and an ERA of 2.95.

Dayton won't be able to pitch until Sunday though as his four-game suspension lasts until then. He was suspended after he hit an Alabama batter with a pitch in last Sunday's win in Tuscaloosa. Because of that and some struggles on the mound recently, Auburn will be TBA on the mound on Saturday, something that Pawlowski said is obviously a little different but they had no choice.

"Cory Luckie has had a couple of rough outings, but you look at yesterday and I know it's only two innings but it was something we can build off of," Pawlowski said. "Slade Smith has had some opportunities. Dexter Price, I don't know if he'll be ready to go on Saturday. We may just go with what we did yesterday in Johnny-Whole-Staff, run them all out there and limit each guy's number of innings and number of pitches. We did that yesterday and South Alabama did a good job with it too. It's tough to get adjusted to seeing five or six different pitchers out there."

Auburn will have to make an adjustment without one of its key players for at least the foreseeable future as junior Justin Bryant was hit on the hand by a pitch against South Alabama and is out for a minimum of two weeks and possibly longer after breaking the fifth metacarpal on his left (non-throwing) hand. With a record of 20-3 with Bryant in the lineup at either second base, shortstop, third base, or in left field, Pawlowski said they'll have to make some adjustments with what they're doing to make up for his absence.

Something that will help is the return of junior center fielder Trent Mummey this week. Getting some at-bats in both mid-week games, Mummey was 3-5 with a home run and four RBI and showed some signs of coming back strong following his foot injury that kept him out the first seven weeks. His possible return to the outfield could mean a move to the infield for Creede Simpson with his ability to play that position and because of the way Justin Fradejas has played in center field.

"Creede at Auburn High played shortstop and played right field and third base in junior college," Pawlowski said. "We could possibly move him to third base. If they have a lefty on the mound we could put Creede at third base and you could put Trent in the outfield if need be.

"As soon as Trent is 100 percent ready to go then we'll get him out there," he added. "Whether he plays center field or right field we're not sure yet."

Game times for the weekend series are 7 p.m. on Friday, 2 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday. Friday's game can be seen on CSS while Saturday's will be shown on SportSouth. Both games can also be seen on Sunday's game will not be televised.

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