For Auburn’s baseball team, there is no more margin for error. After reaching the halfway point of the Southeastern Conference race at 5-10, they have to flip that record or come close to it to have any realistic chance of playing in the postseason.
Ryan Tella is Auburn's hottest hitter.
That mission starts tonight when Auburn (23-14, 5-10) plays at No. 10 Mississippi State (30-9, 8-7).
The Bulldogs are on a roll with seven wins in its last eight games. But Auburn has won seven of its last nine and two consecutive SEC series after starting 1-8 in the league.
“In this league it's kind of irrelevant who you play,” Auburn coach John Pawlowski said. “You know you're going to have a battle on your hands every weekend. I think that, after the start we had, you can't help but go ‘OK, when are we going to start winning? When are we going to get our opportunity and have success?’ It's great to see our guys have that. The confidence continues to grow with this club.”
Because of a virus plaguing Auburn players, Pawlowski wouldn’t name a starter for any of the games against Mississippi State. But Conner Kendrick (2-1, 1.93) is expected to pitch tonight, followed by Michael O’Neal (7-2, 2.40) and Will Kendall (0-4, 6.75).
Mississippi State is expected to counter with Luis Pollorena (6-1, 3.02), Kendall Graveman (5-2, 2.15) and Jacob Lindgren (3-1, 3.08).
The resurgence of centerfielder Ryan Tella has led a resurgence of Auburn’s offense. Tella, whose average dipped to .268, is hitting 315 with 33 runs scored. Senior first baseman Garrett Cooper leads the team in batting average at .333 and home runs with four. The Tigers won 6-2 Tuesday night at Samford.
“I think they're starting to settle in,” Pawlowski said. “(Tuesday) night we didn't swing the bats particularly well earlier in the game. We also got it going and opened that thing up.”
Tonight’s game starts at 6:30 and will be televised by ESPN. Friday’s game starts at 6:30 and will be televised by CSS. Saturday’s series finale starts at 4.