In the midst of playing 12 of 16 games on the road after opening the season with 15 consecutive home games, Auburn will face one of the top pitching staffs in the country in North Carolina. Led by ace sophomore Gary Bakker (2-0, 1.50 ERA), who will pitch Sunday against Colby Paxton (1-1, 2.08) for Auburn, the Tar Heels have talented arms up and down the roster on the pitching staff and will present the Tigers with a tough challenge this weekend.
Friday for the 2 p.m. CST start the Tigers will send Arnold Hughey to the mound for his fifth start of the season. The most consistent of Auburn's starters this season, he is 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA and has allowed just 18 hits in 24 innings pitched this season. He will face junior left-hander Daniel Moore from North Carolina. Moore is 1-0 with a 5.59 ERA and has allowed 12 hits in 9 2/3 innings this season. On Saturday junior right-hander Eric Brandon gets the nod for the Tigers while North Carolina's starter is to be announced later. Brandon is 1-1 with a 6.52 ERA, but has given up just seven hits and two runs in his last two starts after going back to his old form of pitching that he used when he arrived at Auburn.
If the starters can get Auburn to the fifth inning or beyond with a lead then the Tigers will stand a good chance of coming home from Carolina with a series victory. The relief trio of Cory Dueitt, Levale Speigner and Steven Register has combined to allow just 13 earned runs and 40 hits in 52 2/3 innings this season while striking out 56 batters. Dueitt has been particularly deadly of late with a string of 15 2/3 scoreless innings, dating back to the Virginia game on Feb. 14. For the season he has a record of 4-0 with an ERA of 1.31.
Turning into an explosive offensive team because of balance up and down the batting order, the Tigers come into the weekend confident after scoring 32 runs in the last four victories, including 11 Tuesday night in a victory over Samford in Birmingham.
Leading the way for the Tigers is true freshman Josh Bell, who is hitting .403 with six doubles, two home runs and 11 runs batted in. Tops on the team with 15 RBI and hitting a respectable .298, shortstop Chuck Jeroloman is coming into his own at the plate and may be the SEC's most dangerous number nine hitter. Seven of Auburn's nine regulars have at least 11 runs batted in already this season and all nine have at least nine driven home, making it hard for opposing teams to concentrate on the middle of the Tiger order.
That has allowed three hitter Javon Moran and four hitter Bobby Huddleston to break out of mild slumps the past week. The reigning SEC Player of the Week, Huddleston hit .500 with five runs scored, three home runs, nine runs batted in and a slugging percentage of 1.333 percent. Moran, a junior center fielder, is hitting .556 during a current five-game hitting streak and is only two hits shy of reaching 200 for his career.
Game times for the weekend are 2 p.m. CST on Friday, noon CST on Saturday and 12:30 p.m. CST on Sunday. Boshamer Stadium (2,500) will be the site for the games and it will be Auburn's first trip to play baseball in the state of North Carolina since 1967.