Auburn senior pitcher Levale Speigner has seen his share of big weekends in his time on the Plains, but he says this weekend's series against the Clemson Tigers is one of the biggest in his career.
While it's not an conference series, getting a couple of wins over 12th-ranked Clemson would be a big step forward for a team hoping to make a strong statement that they are ready to be among the elite in college baseball.
"It's going to be a huge series for us," Speigner said. "We'll find out what we're made of after Tuesday and how be bounce back from a game like that and what we're made of when we get SEC caliber opponents. We'll really see how deep we are in the pitching staff and how deep our hitting is and how they adjust to great pitching."
Ranked 16th in the country with a record of 6-2 on the season, Auburn comes into the series after a 17-2 loss to South Alabama Tuesday at Plainsman Park. Hoping to find the consistent starting pitching that has been lacking this season, Auburn will send sophomore Arnold Hughey to the mound on Friday, junior Colby Paxton will pitch on Saturday after taking last weekend off to rest a sore arm. Eric Brandon will pitch on Sunday.
A left-hander who has pitched well this season with a 1-0 record and an ERA of 2.08, Hughey will face sophomore Jeff Hahn from Clemson. Hahn was 3-0 last season with an earned run average of 3.19. Paxton is 1-0 this season with a perfect ERA in just 5 1/3 innings of work and will square off against sophomore lefty Tyler Lunsden from Clemson. Lunsden was 4-1 last year with a 5.28 ERA.
Sunday's matchup is the intriguing one with Brandon taking the mound after struggling this season. Currently 0-1 this year with a 10.45 ERA, the junior is working with his delivery and hopes to have his problems straightened out when he pitches against junior Steven Jackson from Clemson. Jackson was 6-1 last year with an ERA of 5.37.
"We went up there last year and played pretty good," Schade said. "That was our first road trip. We played well but we just couldn't finish. Hopefully this year, we have a little bit more experience but we still have some young guys. I think they are just as excited as we are. I'm hoping for a good series."
Speigner echoed Schade's sentiments. A starter for much of his career at Auburn, Speigner has moved to the bullpen as a senior and has responded with two wins already this season. A solid reliever in the middle innings, he's ready to see what this Auburn team is made of against a quality opponent like Clemson.
"I think this series and North Carolina are going to be the biggest notches in our belt to find out how good we are and what we have," Speigner said. "You just have to take these games right here and learn from them. It's an early challenge for them and, but I think it will be a good series.
"We made a couple of key mistakes in games last year. We need to clean that up. We're going to be in front of our fans this year. That makes a little bit of difference, but a club coming in that's this good they are going to play well anywhere they play. We need to just play good defense and pitch well and hope our hits come when we need them to drive in runs."
Schade has been a weapon for the Tigers this season hitting in the bottom half of the order. Struggling with trying to be a power hitter coming out of high school, a summer of working on becoming a more complete hitter has paid off for Schade. Leading the team with a .407 batting average and nine runs scored, he is tied for the team lead in doubles with three and has an on-base percentage of .500. Quietly the owner of a seven-game hitting streak, Schade combines with Tug Hulett and Chuck Jeroloman to give the Tigers one of the best 7-8-9 combinations an Auburn team has had in recent seasons.
For Auburn to be successful this game may come down to producing in the middle of the order. True freshman Josh Bell has been solid this season, entering the series with an eight-game hitting streak and tied for the team lead with two home runs. His catching counterpart, Bobby Huddleston, came out of a slump to hit two home runs against Virginia last weekend and is swinging the bat much better now than when the season began. If Clete Thomas, Sean Gamble and Javon Moran can get on base and put pressure on the Clemson staff, Auburn should have a good chance to come away with a series win against the Tigers.
Big Weekend Series for Clemson
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