Wildcats Visit Plainsman Park This Weekend

Auburn is looking to continue its push for postseason play this weekend against Kentucky at Plainsman Park.

Auburn, Ala.--Just one year ago the Auburn Tigers were in a similar position in the Southeastern Conference baseball race. Sitting at 7-8 in league play after losing two of three to Florida, the Tigers were in the running for a spot in the SEC Tournament until they proceeded to lose 11 of 15 to finish the year and miss the postseason.

However, it's a new year and a different team as the Tigers hopes to turn the corner beginning with this weekend's three-game series against the Kentucky Wildcats. Coming in at 25-13 overall and 8-7 in the SEC, Coach John Pawlowski's Auburn club has improved in almost every area from last season and he hopes that continues this weekend against a very game Kentucky team.

"They are a team that has a lot of talent," Pawlowski says. "Their Friday and Saturday guys are legitimate pitchers. We'll have our hands full with those guys.

"They've got tremendous speed in the outfield. They can defend," he says. "They are leading the conference in stolen bases and hit by pitches. They find ways to get on base and ways to create runs. From a pitching standpoint we're going to have to really do a good job of keeping their leadoff guys off base. If we can do that I think we'll give ourselves a chance."

Auburn's chance may just be determined on how well the pitching staff holds up. With a team ERA of 4.77 this season, the Tigers are over a full run better on the mound in 2010 than last season even with some serious struggles on Friday night in recent weeks. Since winning the season opener at Georgia, the Tigers have been pounded in the last four Friday night games without getting one quality start.

This week the job of getting things going on Friday night returns to sophomore Cory Luckie. With a 4-2 record and an ERA of 6.68 this year, Luckie gave the Tigers a complete game victory at Vanderbilt last weekend as he allowed just five hits. If he can be anywhere close to that effective again it would be huge for Auburn's chances of getting a series win.

Auburn looks to continue its run against lefties this weekend as the Tigers will face talented left-hander Logan Darnell for Kentucky on Friday and Taylor Rogers on Saturday. Darnell is 3-2 with a 4.77 ERA this season and has struck out 41 while walking just 19 this year. Rogers (4-4, 4.92) will be on the mound for the Wildcats while Auburn is listed as TBA. This season Auburn is 10-0 against left-handed starters.

Freshman Slade Smith (1-0, 3.86) and junior Cole Nelson (5-3, 5.56) are two of the players who are possibilities for Saturday.

On Sunday junior Grant Dayton (4-2, 4.89) will look to continue his hot pitching while Kentucky is unsure of its starter.

At the plate Kentucky is hitting .300 as a team with 53 home runs and 63 doubles on the year. Andy Burns is the power guy for the Wildcats with 11 home runs and a .276 average, but Kentucky's strength is its speed. Leading the SEC with 76 stolen bases, the danger guys at the top of the order are Chris Bisson and Keenan Wiley. Two experienced players, they have combined for 26 stolen bases and 55 runs scored this season.

For Auburn the punch comes in the middle of the batting order as number three hitter Brian Fletcher is batting .377 with 13 home runs and 48 RBI on the year. Cleanup hitter Hunter Morris does him one better, batting .409 with 13 home runs and 49 RBI. The comprise the most fearsome duo in the SEC this season and one of the best in the entire country.

The good news for Auburn is that the Tigers are far from alone in the lineup as 11 regulars are hitting above .300, not including injured utility man Justin Bryant, and 12 players have at least 10 RBI this season.

One of the key components is number two hitter Trent Mummey. Since coming back from an injury he has hit safely in all 10 games with a .375 average, five home runs and 16 RBI. Pawlowski said while it starts with the middle of the order, everyone else has picked up the slack this season for the Tigers.

"The experience factor," Pawlowski says in explaining why the hitting has been so good. "Both of those guys (Fletcher and Morris) have played in the Cape (Cape Cod League). Hunter has played on Team USA. It's their third year through this league. Knowing that we're going to have quality at-bats in the middle of the lineup is really, really important.

"I know teams are trying to pitch around those guys so it's important for the other guys in the lineup to be able to contribute, which they have. Coming into this season both of those guys were marked men and marked players. It's just nice to have stability in the middle of the lineup. When you look at their numbers it's a pretty important piece of what we're trying to do."

Game times for the weekend series vs. Kentucky are scheduled for 6:30 on Friday night, 11 a.mon Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday. The Saturday game was originally set for 3 p.m., but was moved to a morning start in hopes of avoiding severe weather forecast later in the day.

There is no television coverage for the series.


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