Auburn, Ala.--With a record of 14-7 overall and 2-1 in the Southeastern Conference, the #20 Auburn Tigers will hit the road for the first time in conference play this weekend as coach John Pawlowski’s club travels to Starkville to face Mississippi State. Coming in 15-6 overall and 1-2 in the league, the Bulldogs have played well to start the season and Pawlowski said it’s going to be a challenge for his team.
“It’s obviously another challenging weekend in the SEC,” Pawlowski said. “Going on the road for the first time in the SEC and playing a team that had a big win on Sunday against Vanderbilt, we just have to play at a championship level. Mississippi State is off to a great start. We know that it will be a battle.”
Having already played on the road in Charleston and at Jacksonville State Tuesday night, the Tigers are already familiar with being away from Plainsman Park. Even with some experience in that regard Pawlowski said they’ll be facing a much different animal this weekend at Dudy Noble Field.
“I think it will help us,” Pawlowski said. “I always try to get the guys acclimated to what it’s like on the road. Obviously you can’t duplicate an SEC environment like we’ll go into this weekend but going to Charleston and playing good teams on the road, I think it helps prepare the guys for what it’s like.”
Hitting .312 as a team this season with 13 home runs, Auburn is led by junior shortstop Casey McElroy and his .409 average. He also leads the team with four homers and 20 RBI. Senior Wes Gilmer is behind him at .354 while the power is supplied by seniors Kevin Patterson and Tony Caldwell. Each have three home runs while Patterson has added 18 RBI. Nine of those RBI have come in the last four games.
On the mound the Tigers have a team ERA of 4.27 and have allowed only four home runs in 21 games. Reliever Ethan Wallen (1-2, 2.14 ERA, 4 saves) has been one of the bright spots for Auburn this season and along with Zach Blatt (1-1, 4.50) and Sean Ray (1-1, 4.97) gives the Tigers three quality arms out of the bullpen.
Much like Auburn, Mississippi State has plenty of new faces both on the mound and in the field. The Bulldogs do have some experience on the mound however as junior Devin Jones (2-3, 3.03) and sophomore Chris Stratton (3-1, 2.38) are back after pitching a lot last year for MSU.
They will get the call for the Bulldogs on Friday and Saturday as Auburn will counter with juniors Cory Luckie (1-1, 4.50) and Will Irvin (3-0, 3.70) respectively. MSU is listed as TBA on Sunday with Auburn sending Derek Varnadore (3-0, 3.09) to the mound.
With so many new faces Pawlowski said it will be a challenge for the Tigers this weekend to learn as much about the Bulldogs as they can in a short period of time.
“You look at their numbers and what they’ve done so far and they’re off to a great start,” Pawlowski said. “The guys that we’re going to see that are going to pitch on Friday and Saturday, we saw both of those guys last year. Both have good arms and good sliders. (Nick) Vickerson their leadoff hitter is 17-17 (stolen bases). He hasn’t been thrown out yet.
“Any team in the SEC, when they have new faces you’re not sure. You look at tape and try to get scouting reports. Until you actually see them it’s hard to find out all those tendencies they may have. It will be a challenge. I think the biggest challenge this weekend lies with our team and trying to continue to play at a high level and execute at a high level.”
Game times for the weekend series against Mississippi State are scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Friday, 2 p.m. on Saturday and 1:30 p.m. on Sunday.
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