Battle Of Ranked Teams Set For Plainsman Park
Auburn, Ala.--Off to a 10-3 start the #23 Auburn Tigers will step up in competition this weekend as coach John Pawlowski's club faces off against seventh-ranked Arizona State in a three-game series at Plainsman Park. Entering the weekend 9-2, the Sun Devils are hitting .344 as a team with a staff ERA of just 2.91. A former assistant at ASU, Pawlowski is very familiar with the program as is Auburn after playing the Sun Devils four times in the last seven years. Last year the Tigers traveled to Tempe and were swept in three game series, something he hopes to avoid this season. He said no matter how things turn out it will be a learning experience for his club. "I think it will help our kids understand the level they have to perform at to be successful," Pawlowski said. "When you're playing a Top Five or Top 10 team like Arizona State the guys understand we have to play at our best. They are a quality opponent year in and out. "It's going to be a great challenge. Playing in the SEC is a great challenge in itself but it's going to be one where they have tremendous arms. They have played well early. It will be our best test of the year so far." A deep and talented team on the mound featuring starters Jake Barrett (0-1, 3.46 ERA) on Friday, Kyle Ottoson (2-0, 3.71) on Saturday and Kramer Champlin (2-0, 2.50), Arizona State is can pitch with the best of them but it's on offense where they do the most damage. Auburn weekend starters Cory Luckie (1-1, 3.00), Slade Smith (1-0, 7.98) and Derek Varnadore (3-0, 1.17) will have the task of slowing down an offense that has put up some big numbers without the benefit of the long ball. In 11 games Arizona State has hit just five home runs but the Sun Devils have an incredible 30 stolen bases and will play fundamental baseball in every facet of the game. "You look at their numbers, they've played 11 games and have more walks than strikeouts," Pawlowski said. "That's very unusual. They sac and move guys over. We know that a lot of the emphasis is going to have to be on playing defense and getting outs when we can and keeping their leadoff guys off base every inning." Creede Simpson has been one of Auburn's most consistent hitters this year. For Auburn offensively it has been an up and down season for the Tigers. Hitting .319 as a team with just seven home runs in 13 games, Auburn has managed to score 83 runs with an impressive 40 doubles as a team. The problems have been in the strikeout department as the Tigers have fanned 93 teams with only 58 walks. Pawlowski said overall his team has improved from the start of the season until now and he's hoping to continue to see that progress in all areas this weekend against Arizona State. "I think we've made some progress," Pawlowski said. "I feel good about our lineup as far as who can fill what roles and where guys can play. I like the versatility of our club. I think we're still trying to sort it out on how to manufacture and score runs. I think that's going to be a continuous process. The pitching staff, I think we're starting to get some of the questions answered there." Game times for the weekend series are scheduled for 6 p.m. on Friday, 3 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday.