Gamecocks Ready For Challenge From Auburn

Auburn will face Jacksonville State Friday night at 6 p.m. at Plainsman Park.

Auburn, Ala.--Winners of eight of its last nine games, including a run through the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament, the Jacksonville State Gamecocks (32-24) enter Friday's game with the 14th-ranked Auburn Tigers (40-19) in the NCAA Tournament on a roll. Scoring a ton of runs and pitching well, they have rolled over everyone in their way in recent weeks with one exception. That exception, Auburn.

Just two weeks ago the Gamecocks made a trip to Plainsman Park and the Tigers pulled out a tough 9-7 victory after scoring two runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to take the lead. Now facing that same Auburn team again, JSU coach Jim Case said he's not sure how much of an advantage it is for his team to have already seen Auburn this year.

"I wish I could say it's a comforting thought that we saw them recently, but the way they swing the bats I don't know if it's a comfort or not," Case said. "Maybe we would have been better going into it blind. They are an awfully good team. Coach (John) Pawlowski has done a wonderful job, he and his staff in only a couple of years, of really turning that thing around…to have an opportunity to go back down there for a regional is kind of like icing on the cake. I do wish I could say the familiarity with them would give us some confidence, but the way they swing the bats I'm not sure that's true. They are awfully good."

Andrew Edge is one of the top hitters for Jacksonville State

The Gamecocks will go into things without one of their top players as well this weekend as sophomore third baseman Sam Eberle has been suspended from the regional for a violation of team rules. That could be a big blow for JSU as Eberle was hitting .277 with 16 home runs, 16 doubles, and 60 RBI. Case said they'll just have to find a way to make up for his loss with someone else stepping up.

"I'm not positive what we'll do," Case said. "There is a good chance that Blake Seguin (.306, 0 HR, 23 RBI) will move to third base and play there for us, which he has done. He's probably started five or six games at third base for us. I look at it as an opportunity. It's a disappointing thing when someone cannot play for a weekend, but at the same time it's an opportunity for another guy. This time of year in tournament play it seems like different people will step up and a lot of times it comes from people you don't expect."

Even without Eberle the Gamecocks have plenty of firepower at the plate as speedy Bert Smith is the table setter for a very aggressive offense. Hitting .371 with 11 doubles, Smith is 34-38 in stolen bases this season as the Gamecocks are an incredible 91-101 in steal attempts this year. There is still plenty of power left even without Eberle as Daniel Adamson (13), Kyle Bluestein (12), Andrew Edge (11) and Todd Cunningham (10) all are capable of putting the ball out of the park.

For Jacksonville State though the key may come on the mound in the form of starting pitcher Austin Lucas. A perfect 6-0 with season with a 4.97 ERA, Lucas has three complete games in 12 starts. Not a strikeout pitcher with just 43 in 58 innings, he instead relies on his defense to pick up the slack. Case said he's done a very good job after being forced to the sidelines early in the season.

"He missed probably the first three or four weeks," Case said. "He had a sickness and really was away from our field completely for about 12 days. It really set him back. When our season was going he was really in that January mode where we were trying to build his pitch count up and get him ready. Once he got caught up he's been very good. The good thing about Austin is I don't think he's intimidated. The other thing is he loves to compete. He's done a great job of giving us a chance to win. It's not like every outing has been lights out, but he gives us a chance to win. When he's on the mound our guys have a lot of confidence."

Auburn and Jacksonville State will square off in the second game of the regional at 6 p.m. on Friday following the opening game between second-seed Clemson and third-seed Southern Miss at 2 p.m.

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