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What you need to know (and didn't realize) about Auburn's third weekend opponent: the Eastern Illinois Panthers
An old coach used to always hammer the five P's: Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance. Not just a fancy slogan that gets a high school football coach/driver's ed instructor through the day, it's also a good way to know what to expect from upcoming Auburn opponents. Here are your Five P's for Auburn's foe this weekend, Eastern Illinois:
The Eastern Illinois Panthers. The Panthers, out of Charleston, Ill., are making their first trip to the Plains to face Auburn. Deeply rooted in the Ohio Valley Conference (with normal Auburn opponents like Jacksonville State, Belmont and UT-Martin), the Blue and Gray have been to the NCAA Tournament twice under current head coach Jim Schmitz (19th season, 478-490 record) in 1999 and 2008. There isn't a huge baseball pedigree from EIU, but the school can lay claim to a couple of big-leaguers, such as former Kansas City Royal Kevin Seitzer (26.5 WAR) and New York Mets LHP Randy Myers (14.2 WAR). Famous Alumni from EIU include: actor John Malkovich, environmentalist Joan Embery, Tony Romo, Brad Childress, Sean Payton, and Mike Shanahan.
This is the first time that EIU and Auburn have met on the diamond. The Panthers come in to the series with a 2-5 record. The only victories coming 2-0 over Alcorn State and 4-3 over Jackson State. The Panthers have been in Mississippi to start the year going 1-2 in the Jackson State Tournament (L 4-3/L 10-7 to Texas Southern/W over JSU) and the Southern Miss Invitational in Hattiesburg (L 6-3 to USM/W 2-0 over Alcorn/L 5-4 to Missouri State). It hasn't been pretty so far. The team has a .242 average at the plate, and the 3.96 ERA is deceiving because it is weighted by Joe Greenfield's stellar 0.66 ERA. EIU has been plagued by the injury bug to start 2013, and No. 1 starter Troy Burton and No. 2 Starter Christian Slazinik have both been sidelined. The loss of Slazinik was especially painful, as he hurt his leg on the first pitch of the Jackson State game. EIU was picked to finish fifth in the OVC coming off last year's 29-29 overall record and fourth-place finish.
Greenfield is the ace so for on the year. His dominance over Alcorn State (CGS/6 K/6 H/1 BB) led him to be tabbed as Ohio Valley Conference pitcher of the week. Greenfield leads the team in strikeouts (12) and innings pitched (13 2/3), and the entire staff has yet to allow a home run in 61 1/3 innings. At the plate, the Panthers are led by Brant Valach (.360) and Jacob Reese (.350). Reese is a full-timer at catcher, while Valach is the everyday third baseman. EIU isn't a team that hits for a ton of power, and the lone homer so far has come from Demetre Taylor (.190).
This has to be seen as a tuneup series for Auburn. Greenfield is going to present the biggest challenge and the Tigers have to show they can hit a team's topflight pitcher early and often. On the mound, Auburn needs to pound the strike zone. Eastern Illinois is a strikeout-weak club (53 Ks so far on the year) and center fielder Nic Priessman (9) and SS Taylor Schweigert (7) seem the most susceptible. Auburn needs to take this opportunity to improve its running game, as well. EIU has allowed 11 steals all season on 14 attempts. The running game has been an aspect of the Auburn offense that is surprisingly down, and now is the time try to kickstart that facet of the attack. Finally, Auburn absolutely has to be more patient at the plate. The number of strikeouts against Kennesaw State was unacceptable. The lack of production from the top of the lineup was also concerning. Bottom line: Auburn needs to use this weekend as a chance to show that Tuesday's outing against Kenessaw State was just an aberration.
Anything other than a sweep in unacceptable this weekend. Auburn has to go 3-0 and prepare for the MAX Capital City Classic against Alabama on Tuesday.