Auburn, Ala.—Following a solid start in the pre-conference portion of the schedule with a 13-3 record, the Auburn Tigers will ramp things up dramatically this weekend as the #2 Vanderbilt Commodores come to Plainsman Park to open Southeastern Conference play for both teams.
Currently 16-2 on the year with series wins over Long Beach State and Oregon on the season, Vanderbilt is perhaps the most talented team in the country with 18 players that have been drafted before in the MLB Draft currently on the roster. Hitting .309 as a team and with an ERA of just 1.96, the Commodores have all the pieces to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament in 2013 says Auburn Coach John Pawlowski, but he says his team is ready to see where it stacks up against one of the best.
“I’m anxious to watch us play and compete,” Pawlowski says. “I think everybody is. One of the things about this league is that it becomes irrelevant where teams are ranked because of the fact that everybody is ranked. Everybody has a good team. Everybody has a chance to beat anybody. That’s why this league is so good. It’s a challenge.
“Vanderbilt happens to be ranked #2 in the country and that is a tribute to what they’ve done, but that’s what playing here at Auburn is,” he adds. “Every weekend you’re going to get a quality opponent and this is no different this weekend.”
While speedy Tony Kemp (.438, 10 SB), Conner Harrell (.305, 4 HR, 27 RBI), and Mike Yastrzemski (.295, 2 HR, 14 RBI, 10 SB) are just a few of the dangerous offensive weapons for the Commodores, it’s on the mound where Coach Tim Corbin’s team really excels.
Vanderbilt’S Friday night starter, junior lefty Kevin Ziomek is one of the top pitchers in the country and his numbers this season have backed that up. Currently 4-0, Ziomek has an ERA of just 0.87 and has allowed just three earned runs in 31 innings. The most impressive stat for the Massachusetts native is that he has struck out 46 and walked just seven this season.
Saturday won’t be much easier for the Tigers with Tyler Beede a very impressive pitcher as well. Also 4-0, Beede has allowed just three earned runs in 25 1/3 innings (1.07 ERA) and is holding opponents to a .167 average. On Sunday Vanderbilt will send Philip Pfeifer to the mound with a 2-0 record and an ERA of 2.14.
If Vanderbilt can build a lead the Commodores have just the man to turn to out of the bullpen in closer Brian Miller. The 6-4 sophomore has four saves in 10 appearances this season with an ERA of just 0.57. In 15 2/3 innings he has struck out 13 and walked just one batter.
“When you look at that team one of the things that stands out is their arms,” Pawlowski says. “They have as much talent on the mound as any team that we’ll face this year. Ziomek has had two complete games his last two outings, which you don’t see in baseball an awful lot. They are very talented and it will certainly be a challenge for us offensively.”
The job of attacking that pitching staff goes to an Auburn offense that has an average of just .278 at the moment. Despite getting his 13-game hitting streak snapped Tuesday night in a win over Kennesaw State, freshman Jordan Ebert leads Auburn with a .380 average and has a team-high 19 hits. First baseman Garrett Cooper (.327, 15 RBI) and center fielder Ryan Tella (.293, 20 RBI) have been the most productive Tigers at the plate and will be counted on to provide some pop against the Commodores.
One of the keys for Auburn offensively this weekend could be the continued development of designated hitter Patrick Savage. Coming up big late in the 2012 season when Cooper was injured, the junior is hitting .267 this season, but has seven RBI in just 30 at-bats and Pawlowski says is quickly becoming that piece they’ve been looking for at DH.
“Last year down the stretch he was arguably one of our better hitters,” Pawlowski says. “At the beginning of the season we tried to give certain guys opportunities and that was one of the spots we were kind of playing around with. Now he’s swinging the bat very well. He has come up with some really big hits for us. In the SEC against good arms you’ve got to have experienced bats and I think he brings a tremendous amount of in-game experience to the lineup.”
On the mound Daniel Koger is still looking for his first win of the season despite pitching well in his first four starts. With an ERA of 2.42, the sophomore has struck out 15 and walked just six in 22 1/3 innings. He will get the start on Friday night for the Tigers. On Saturday junior college transfer Michael O'Neal will attempt to go 5-0 as he takes his 1.40 ERA to the hill for Auburn. Sunday sophomore Rocky McCord (2-0, 3.44 ERA) gets the start for the Tigers looking to win his third consecutive decision.
Game times for the weekend series with Vanderbilt are 6 p.m. on Friday, 2:15 on Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday. Saturday’s game can be seen on SportSouth.
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