Currently 18-8 overall and 4-2 in league action following a win over Kennesaw State on Tuesday night, Coach Sunny Golloway said his team will have another strong test from Missouri, but they are excited to be back home.
"They've got strong arms for the most part," Golloway said of Missouri (11-12). "They kind of play station-to-station offensively and want to get some guys on and swing it and hopefully get into one. Then they really depend on their pitching and their defense.
"We're concerned that we're going to run into some power arms this weekend, but we have some power arms on our side as well. We've got to match up."
The pitching for the visiting Tigers is led by ace Brett Graves (3-1, 1.51 ERA). Injured by an overthrow in the opening series against Tennessee, he moved back to the third spot in the rotation for Missouri and will face off against senior Michael O'Neal (1-2, 3.62 ERA) for Auburn. Thursday night's nationally televised game will have Auburn senior Dillon Ortman (5-1, 1.96) squaring off against fellow senior Eric Anderson (0-2, 2.77) for Missouri. Friday night, freshman sensation Keegan Thompson (5-0, 0.78) will take the hill for Auburn against junior John Miles (2-2, 5.57) for Missouri.
Swept on the road at Ole Miss last weekend by a combined score of 19-7, Missouri is a team that Auburn will be looking for a measure of revenge against after dropping a doubleheader on the road last year in Columbia and dropping the series. This appears to be a different Auburn team and senior Golloway said the confidence of winning games has been big for this club early in the 2014 season.
"If anything I was concerned that if we got off to a bad start, keeping their confidence up," Golloway said. "I like the fact that they're playing pretty confident right now. I have been a little cautious with them saying ‘you're not as good as you look on one day or as bad as you look on another'. I told them not to worry about the rankings and I told everybody ‘don't rank us' because at the end of the year we're in a playoff system basically.
"I told our guys the the only number I'm worried about is the RPI," he added. "We're 18 in one and 20 in the other. That's the number that really matters as far as the NCAA Tournament. You're going to have a high RPI if you keep playing well. It will take care of itself.
"You know our guys know where we are ranked and they are excited to be in the Top 25. Maybe it's good for them to stick their chest out because they have been beat down quite a bit. I kind of like the fact that they're playing with confidence, but they still have a chip on their shoulder. I'm going to let it roll and see what happens."
Rolling is exactly what senior center fielder Ryan Tella is doing for the Tigers at the moment. Starting his season with just four hits in his first 20 at-bats before running off a 9-14 streak over a four-game stretch, Tella went hitless in three-straight games and knew something had to be done. Changing his batting style to something more similar to what he did as a sophomore, Tella has been one of the keys to success for the Tigers in their run.
Hitting safely in 10 of his last 11 games with 17 hits in 40 at-bats (.425), the speedster has raised his average to .365 overall. Second to Damek Tomscha in average and home runs (3), and second to Dan Glevenyak with eight stolen bases in nine attempts, Tella is becoming the player Golloway wanted him to be in the middle of the Auburn order.
"I feel pretty good," Tella said. "I have just been working with the coaches and I have to keep after it. We have been working with each other and helping each other out."
With a chance to keep the momentum going this weekend as a team, Auburn has a chance to make even more noise nationally with another big win. Tella said the goal for the team is to keep the pressure on and do what it takes to keep winning.
"It's huge," Tella said. "We've had two SEC wins. They weren't sweeps, but we'll take it. Taking the momentum over from last weekend into Missouri for Thursday, Friday, Saturday is going to be huge for us."
Game times for the series are 6:30 p.m. on Thursday (ESPNU), 6 p.m. on Friday and noon on Saturday (FSN South).