Auburn, Ala.—Finishing just 27-32 last season, the Missouri Tigers were one strike away from beating Texas A&M for the Big 12 Tournament Championship after winning four of its last five conference series. With plenty of positives heading into the offseason, the Tigers will travel to Auburn this weekend to face John Pawlowski’s club in a three-game series to open the 2012 season.
This will be the third meeting between the two schools with Missouri winning each of the first two, the most an 11-7 victory early in the 2010 season. With seven of nine position players returning and two weekend starters, the visiting Tigers will present a young Auburn team with plenty of challenges to open the new season.
Led by All-Big 12 honorable mention selection Blake Brown in the outfield (.267, 7 HR, 34 RBI), Missouri has back five of its top six hitters and only has to replace its shortstop and designated hitter this season. Also back are outfielder Brannon Champagne (.297, 27 RBI), third baseman Conner Mach (.285, 4 HR, 32 RBI), catcher Ben Turner (.269, 14 RBI), and first baseman Scott Sommerfield (.304, 1 HR, 15 RBI).
Without a lot of power returning, much like Auburn, speed will be the name of the game for the Missouri Tigers as well. Last season they stole a school record 94 bases and 65 of those steals are back led by Brown’s 20. Missouri had just 61 stolen bases combined in 2009 and 2010 before last season’s record-setting performance.
On the mound Missouri returns Eric Anderson as its Friday night starter after he went 3-0 with a 4.93 ERA in 2011 and playing just over half the season. The team went 6-1 in his starts. He will face off against Auburn’s Derek Varnadore (6-3, 3.68 ERA) in the series opener at 3 p.m. Friday.
A pitcher for Team USA, Anderson was one of the team's top pitchers over the summer. He led the team in ERA (0.00), wins (two) while ranking second in innings pitched (12.0). He allowed just eight hits and two walks in his 12.0 innings of work and did not allow a run while striking out seven batters. Prior to his stint with USA Baseball, Anderson threw two games with Falmouth in the Cape Cod League and posted a 1.50 ERA.
Saturday will have junior Slade Smith (2-2, 5.83) for Auburn up against sophomore Rob Zastryzny for Missouri. The left-hander was an All-Freshman selection in the Big 12 last season after going 2-5, but with an ERA of just 4.33. Junior college transfer Jeff Cline will get the start on Sunday for Missouri after going 6-3 with a 2.30 ERA at Maplewoods Community College. Auburn is listed as TBA on Sunday with either senior Jon Luke Jacobs (1-5, 4.01) or true freshman Daniel Koger expected to get the call.
Game times for the weekend series at Plainsman Park are 3 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday.
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