Just when it seems like Auburn is ready to get going in the right direction, the Tigers falter and raise more questions. They bounced back from a Friday night loss to Presbyterian with two solid wins, but then dropped the Capital City Classic to Alabama. Now, a weekend series against Mercer is all that separates Sunny Golloway's club and the start of SEC action. The Bears are solid, ranked 12th in Warren Nolen's RPI, so this will be no cake walk or easy tune-up.
Credit the Tigers for never giving up -- it was 10-1 entering the bottom of the ninth -- but that doesn't cover up the face that the Blue Hose pretty much had their way all night.
Auburn 3, Presbyterian 0
One of the consistent bright spots has been freshman Keegan Thompson on the mound. He didn't disappoint in his first Saturday start, throwing a complete game one-hitter with zero walks and five strikeouts.
Auburn 12, Presbyterian 5
The Tigers finally broke out offensively with 12 runs on 14 hits. Damek Tomscha led the way with three hits, Auburn's first homer of the year and four RBI. Perhaps it was a sign the team was putting its woes at the plate to bed?
Well, not just yet. Auburn took an early lead thanks to a Dan Glevenyak two-run homer, but there wan't much offensive output after that. The Tigers compiled just three hits, and a throwing error with two outs in the top of the ninth allowed the winning run to score for the Tide.
Auburn (6-6) vs. Mercer (12-2)
Friday, 6 p.m. CT
Sr. RHP Dillon Ortman (2-1, 2.55) vs. Jr. LHP Grant Papelian (1-0, 3.07)
Saturday, 3 p.m. CT
Fr. RHP Keegan Thompson (2-0, 0.39) vs. TBD
Sunday, 1 p.m. CT
TBD vs. TBD
Mercer is the real deal. If you aren't impressed by the Bear's lofty RPI or their 12-2 record, just look at those offensive numbers. Center fielder Sasha LaGarde is tied for second in the country with six home runs, and first baseman Nick Backlund has three, placing him in a tie for 13th nationally. LaGarde is also tied for second with 19 RBI, and he ranks 17th with a .766 slugging percentage. Backlund is 19th at .756. If Auburn's pitchers make a mistake, the Bears have the bats to make the Tigers pay.
This is a big weekend for Auburn at the plate. The Tigers can't afford to struggle and put all the pressure on their pitching, because if that happens, things could get ugly. Four straight games with 10-plus hits was a good sign, but the lack of hits against Alabama once again brought up questions about the offense and whether or not the players are ready to excel in Golloway's system. Right now, Connor Short (.462), Ryan Tella (.382), Anfernee Grier (.318) and Tomscha (.345) are all hitting over .300, but the rest of the team is struggling mightily. The remaining players with at least 12 at-bats are combining for a paltry .217 average.
Auburn could really use some extra-base hits. The Tigers rank 12th or worst in the SEC in slugging percentage, doubles, triples and home runs. They've been doing a better job of getting guys on base with singles, walks and hits by pitch lately, but stringing together rallies has been proving to be most difficult. Going gap-to-gap with men on would really help to ease the pain.
Mercer doesn't have the best pitching in the world, so Auburn should have opportunities at the plate. The Tigers really need to take advantage, if for no other reason than to build confidence going into conference play. As far as wins and losses go, more offense struggles could easily lead to a series loss -- or worse, a sweep.
Bring a sweatshirt to the ballpark (or parking deck) Friday night, but Saturday and Sunday should be perfect baseball weather.
Around the SEC
Mississippi State at Arizona, UC-Santa Barbara
Kentucky vs. Ball State
Georgia vs. Buffalo, North Florida, Western Carolina
Vanderbilt vs. Winthrop
Arkansas at San Francisco, Tulane, California
Florida vs. Connecticut
Missouri vs. Southern Miss
South Carolina vs. Brown
Alabama vs. Mississippi Valley State
Ole Miss vs. Arkansas-Little Rock
Texas A&M vs. Louisiana Tech
LSU vs. Purdue
Tennessee at Arizona State