Running Tigers

Auburn runs like no other team, leading the nation in stolen bases. They'll be running the bases of Swayze Field this weekend.

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The Tigers, 10-7 this season, have 50 stolen bases in 67 attempts and have already surpassed what they did in 58 games in 2011. If the current pace of 2.94 steals per game continues, Auburn would have 164 steals this season.

Ole Miss catcher Will Allen is aware and ready to deal with it as the Tigers invade Oxford for the Southeastern Conference opening weekend.

"We'll work on that," he said prior to practice on Thursday. "I've got the best coaches in the country to help me do that."

The Auburn record for stolen bases in a season is 116 in 1974. The SEC record is 215 by Tennessee in 63 games in 2000.

Ole Miss Sunday starter Mike Mayers said the pitchers have talked about the running Tigers this week. They believe they are as prepared as they can be for the challenge.

"It goes back to the things we've worked on," the sophomore right-hander said. "Your picks, different ways to hold guys on. Coach (Bianco) is definitely not afraid to throw over there six or seven times, that's for sure. After you pick you've got to make sure you make quality pitches, not bouncing balls in the dirt, anything like that. It all goes back to experience, really."

Allen returned to the lineup Tuesday after missing six games and part of a seventh with a fractured little finger on his throwing hand.

"It felt great," the sophomore said of his hand. "It held up. It wasn't too sore or anything the day after. I was really happy to get back out there and help the team."

He even said swinging the bat hasn't been too painful.

"It feels good. I kind of got in there with Coach (Cliff) Godwin a few days after it happened and tried to grip it," he said. "My two fingers (last two on his throwing hand) were kind of off the bat. He just said go ahead and swing. It felt good, and he was like let's go ahead and take batting practice. We just went step by step and it felt good. So they told me let's go at it."

Andrew Mistone
Bruce Newman

Allen went 4-for-4 in Wednesday's 18-8 Ole Miss win at Louisville. Not known as a speedster by any stretch, Allen rumbled around the loaded bases with a triple, clearing them as part of a seven-run fifth inning.

He said it caught him by surprise he was able to make it to third base.

"Yeah, I was running and kind of had my head up," he said. "I looked over at Coach (Godwin), and he's waving me around and I was like 'Oh Geez.' But that's always fun. I got to hit one (triple) last year against (Mississippi) State in Pearl. I didn't know if that would ever happen again. That was fun."

SEC Bound For Years

Andrew Mistone always wanted to play in the SEC. Now he gets a chance to play against the SEC as part of his first league weekend series as an Ole Miss Rebel.

"As a kid, I always wanted to be in the SEC," said the Rebels' third baseman. "Don't ask me why. I'm from southern California my whole life, and I just wanted to come to the SEC. Just watching it on TV it was the atmosphere, and the elite players.

Mistone said the Rebels, 14-3, are trying not to put too much pressure on themselves as conference action begins.

"Heading into this weekend, we always say we're just playing ourselves and the game; it's just another game of baseball," he said. "We still have to play the way we know how to play, get quality at-bats, make plays on defense, pitchers throw strikes, hitters get hits. Us vs. the game."

Mistone admits, however, this weekend it isn't really just another team they'll face.

"It's a good Auburn team, and any SEC team we play will be a good challenge for us," he said. "We're excited to get into league play and show them what we've got."

Mistone, having a solid year defensively so far, said pre-hit focus and immediate reaction are necessary to succeed at third.

"At third base there's really not that much thinking going on," he said. "The ball's hit and the ball's coming hard at you. You either chest up to it and make the play, or you make a one -dive. It's all based off reaction. Lot of times you don't really process it. Your body just does it and your mind reacts to it. We're prepared for it."

Mistone said he and his teammates are looking forward to tonight and this weekend for the obvious reasons.

"Growing up as a kid, this is what you look forward to. You look forward to the big stage," he said. "Obviously there's no bigger stage in college baseball pretty much than Swayze Field. Everybody's looking forward to SEC baseball."

An Inside Look At Auburn

Derek Varnadore
File Photo

Jason Caldwell, of the Tigers' site, Inside The Auburn Tigers, said Auburn brings a little different look to Oxford this season.

"This is a different Auburn baseball team, really in the past 12 to 15 years," he said. "There's not really much power on this team. They depend mainly on running and stolen bases and try to scratch across runs. Only eight home runs, so they depend more on clutch hitting, putting bunts down, stealing bases, trying to play that small ball to perfection. That's what they have to do to be successful."

Caldwell said the Tiger pitchers have done well for the most part.

"This is an Auburn staff that I think has shown a lot of improvement," he said. "A couple of guys from last year are now in the rotation. (Saturday starter) Will Kendall, a sophomore lefty that was mainly a midweek guy last year has stepped into the rotation the last couple of weeks and pitched very well. (Sunday starter) Daniel Koger is a 6-6 freshman lefty, and he is a guy that I think has a chance to be down the road Auburn's first legit Friday night guy in quite some time."

In 16.1 innings pitched and five appearances with two starts, Kendall, 2-0, hasn't allowed an earned run. Koger has a 1-1 record and a 1.82 ERA.

"Derek Varnadore has taken on that role this year," Caldwell said of the Friday night starter. "He's a guy that came out of junior college last year and pitched well. I think he'll continue to get better as the season goes on."

Varnadore, a senior righty, is 1-1 with a 5.55 ERA.

Auburn led the SEC in home runs two seasons ago. Ironically the strength and conditioning coach for Auburn then is at Ole Miss now – Rich Levy.

Caldwell said fourth-year AU head coach John Pawlowski seems to have the type team he wants in place now.

"The change in the bats also (has something to do with it)," Caldwell said. "I think (Pawlowski) believes the way to win the game now is to do this and not try to depend on hitting home runs.

"They got kind of stuck in between that last year." he continued. "They recruited that way (small ball players), and there's not a whole lot of power there. But there's a lot of speed in the outfield. This is a team that runs well and (at the plate) does not try to force the issue. They play old-style baseball."

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