By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - If Auburn’s series at Tennessee resembles the Tigers’ previous SEC series, fans can expect close games.
Auburn’s past five conference wins have been of the one-run variety. After going 1-11 in one-run games last season, the Tigers are 10-2 in nail-biters this season. Auburn has won eight consecutive one-run games, including Tuesday’s 16-15 Samford slugfest.
Casey Mize (5-1, 1.37 ERA) starts Thursday’s 6 p.m. opener against Tennessee’s Hunter Martin (4-2, 3.56).
“Hopefully, we can find a way early in the series,” Auburn coach Butch Thompson said. “Casey has done a lot in the last two weeks. For him to be efficient, to keep the ball in the strike zone, and we probably need some bullpen pieces in that first game.”
Picked to finish tied for seventh in the SEC West, Auburn nears the midpoint of SEC play ranked No. 10 in the country and tied for first in the division with Arkansas and Mississippi State. Tennessee (17-13, 3-9) ranks last in the SEC East but the Vols took two of three last week at Florida.
“This is a pivotal moment for our ball club,” Thompson said. “I think we’re aware of that. It’s huge to have success and keep trying to win games in the league to keep up.
“I think if you look at it, 10 of our 14 teams are within two games of first place. That’s another amazing thing that I can’t remember in my fifteen years. Everybody feels like they’re right there. It’s crazy. It’s absolute chaos for 10 of our 14 teams to feel like, ‘Hey, if we go play good, we’ll be in first place.’”
Freshman designated hitter Conor Davis, whose 3-run walk-off home run led Auburn to a series win over South Carolina two weeks ago, has eight RBI in his last 10 games.
“He looks like a veteran,” Thompson said. “He’s locked in right now, seeing the ball well, and earned his right to be in the lineup.”
After the Tennessee series, Auburn concludes its eight-game road trip at Kennesaw State Tuesday before returning to Plainsman Park April 21-23 against the Razorbacks, a series featuring two of the three teams tied for first in the West.
“This is huge for Tennessee. This is huge for Auburn,” Thompson said. “And I can go right down the list of every team in the Southeastern Conference. I think it just reiterates that it’s the best league in America because everybody in this league, fifth weekend of this conference season, is playing for so much and for every weekend to be so meaningful.”
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer