Tigers Face Hogs In SEC West Battle

Trent Mummey

Auburn squares off against SEC Western Division leading Arkansas this weekend in a three-game series at Plainsman Park.

Auburn, Ala.--Winners of 12 of their last 13 games, the Auburn Tigers (15-5, 2-1) open the home portion of the SEC schedule this weekend with a three-game series against the 15th-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks (13-4, 3-0) at Plainsman Park.

Sound fundamentally with a strong pitching staff, Auburn coach John Pawlowski says Arkansas will be a very tough test for his team this weekend.

"It certainly will be a great challenge this weekend playing a very solid Arkansas team," Pawlowski points out. "When you look at the teams they've played in the early part of the season it has certainly been a challenging schedule for them and they've done very well.

"We're going to have to play some solid baseball this weekend because based off the numbers and what I've seen so far, Arkansas certainly has some strengths on their club, one of which is their starting pitching. They throw a lot of strikes, which is very important in the college game."

Featuring a very good pitching staff, the Razorbacks have a team ERA of just 3.92 heading into this weekend's series and have wins over Washington State, Kansas, and California this season.

On Friday night they will send left-hander Dallas Keuchel to the mount against Auburn. He is 2-0 on the year with a 3.24 ERA. Saturday will be righty T.J. Forrest (1-1, 3.50) with another lefty Drew Smylie (1-0, 1.83) on Sunday. This season Razorback pitchers have struck out 161 batters while walking only 50.

Auburn will counter with sophomore Grant Dayton on Friday. Last week Dayton pitched eight scoreless innings in a win over Tennessee and enters the contest 2-1 with a 2.45 ERA. Saturday redshirt freshman Jon Luke Jacobs (2-0, 4.43) gets the ball with senior Paul Burnside (0-1, 5.50) going on Sunday.

At 3-0 in conference play after sweeping the Florida Gators at home last weekend, the Razorbacks are led at the plate by Ben Tschepikow. He leads the team with a .377 average, 19 RBI and has 26 hits. He's second on the team in home runs with six. Arkansas has hit 27 home runs this season with Andy Wilkins blasting eight of those.

That's a far cry from Auburn's numbers to this point as the Tigers have a league-high 46 homers with Trent Mummey's 10 good enough for second in the league. Mummey leads the Tigers with a .432 average and has 25 RBI. His 37 runs scored in just 20 games leads the nation.

As a team the Tigers are hitting .302 with Ben Jones (.348), Joseph Sanders (.329) and Justin Hargett (.313) all regulars that are hitting above .300 in addition to Mummey. Auburn received a scare on Wednesday night as Sanders was hit on the forearm by a pitch, but Pawlowski says the X-rays showed no broken bones. He says he expects Sanders to be ready to go this weekend as long as they can keep the swelling down.

One of the biggest surprises has been Auburn's offensive production without Hunter Morris begin a big part of things. The sophomore has battled a sore back throughout the early part of the season and is hitting just .230 with four home runs and 12 RBI. Even without him the Tigers have come up big on offense and especially with the long ball. That‘s something Pawlowski notes he didn't envision in his first season at Auburn.

"I wish I could look into the crystal ball and said I could, but in the fall I liked the potential we had offensively," Pawlowski says. "I saw some swings from some big, strong, physical kids. The biggest thing is that our approach has changed. I think the guys are maturing a little big. To be second in the country in home runs right now, there is no way I could have predicted that."

Game times for the weekend series against Arkansas are scheduled for 4 p.m. on Friday, 3 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday. There is no television for the series. Friday's start time was moved up two hours so it wouldn't conflict with Auburn's NIT home basketball game that vs. Tulsa that starts at 7 p.m.

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