Second on the team in hitting with a .333 average, junior catcher Blake Austin is one of Auburn's most experienced players and knows how different things will be this weekend when Southeastern Conference play opens. While many are expecting this to be a long series for the Tigers, Austin says this team is confident in its abilities heading into the conference opener.
"We're beyond excited," Austin says. "The locker room is jumping right now. We're playing the number two team in the country, but in the SEC every week is going to be like that. We're expecting to play our game and hopefully walk out of here with three wins.
"I don't think it's a statement weekend for us," he adds. "I think it's just a chance for us to play ball. We have to play Vanderbilt and see what they have and what we have. Brown and those teams are good opponents, but we want to see SEC Friday night guys. We want to see that and we're waiting for that challenge."
Austin has been one of the stories of the early season for the Tigers as he came back in much better shape and that has translated to his play on the field. Named to the Johnny Bench Award watch list, Austin has a very strong arm and caught five players attempting to steal this season and 25 in his career.
"It's very exciting," Austin says. "I really worked hard to get my name on that list. It has been surreal going from a freshman here and not getting much playing time to being on the list, I worked hard to get there."
Austin's play could be a huge piece of the puzzle for Auburn this weekend as Vanderbilt is one of the most aggressive teams in the country on the base paths. In just 18 games the Commodores already have 48 stolen bases, something Austin says he's very aware of.
"It's a challenge for me personally," Austin says. "They have 44 stolen bases and don't get caught much either. That means they know how to run. They know how to pick counts and pick pitches to run on. We're going to work on that this week. I just tell my pitchers to give me a chance and see what happens."
Facing a team that can run and is also very balanced offensively, Coach John Pawlowski says the pressure isn't just on Austin, but on the entire pitching staff and team to get the job done against a talented Commodores team.
"They are multi-dimensional offensively," Pawlowski says. "I think they have 11 home runs. They can hit the ball out of the ballpark, but they can steal too. They've got a lot of different elements they bring to the game. It's very important for Blake to play well, but it starts with the pitchers.
"They have to do a very good job of controlling the running game. We've done a good job with that and we have to continue to do that. Even before that it starts with keeping those leadoff guys off base. You can control the inning and reduce their playbook by keeping that leadoff guy off base."
Auburn and #2 Vanderbilt kick off a three-game series tonight at 6 p.m. at Plainsman Park. Saturday's game is scheduled for a 2:15 start and can be seen on SportSouth. Sunday's first pitch is set for 1 p.m.