AUBURN - For Auburn's baseball team, the biggest weekend of the season is at hand. Every swing, every pitch, every decision could be crucial.
First baseman Garrett Cooper is expected to return.
Auburn (29-24 overall and 12-15 in the Southeastern Conference) opens a three-game series against No. 2 Florida (38-15, 16-11) tonight at Plainsman Park. Gametime is set for 6.
The Tigers have assured themselves of a third consecutive trip to the SEC Tournament next Tuesday in Hoover, but they have work to do if they are t play in an NCAA regional for the second time in three seasons.
"One of our goals going into the season was to make a third consecutive trip to the SEC Tournament, which is a tremendous accomplishment for our club and our program," fourth-year coach John Pawlowski said. "Now there is an opportunity to play for more than that. Our players understand the importance of the weekend, where we are."
The Gators, preseason favorites in the SEC, will not win the regular-season championship, but they are expected to be a regional host.
"I don't know exactly what Florida is playing for," Pawlowski said. "They've had a tremendous year. For us, there is a lot. We are trying to continue to improve our standing in the SEC and looking beyond to postseason play."
Senior Jon Luke Jacobs (5-2, 3.10) will get the call on the mound tonight against Florida's Hudson Randall (6-1, 3.29).
First baseman Garrett Cooper (.326, 5 HR), out since suffering a strained oblique last Thursday at Arkansas, has a chance to play tonight, Pawlowski said. Left fielder Cullen Wacker (.355, 3 HR), Auburn's second-leading hitter, is not expected to play. He's been out since suffering a sprained knee on a collision with centerfielder Ryan Tella at Georgia.
“The implications for the weekend are huge, and I think everybody kind of realizes that," Jacobs said.
"They are a great team. You just have to come in and be prepared. It’s our last hurrah here at home, so I think everybody is ready to go. You just have to come out and leave everything out there.
“On paper they are a great team. I don’t want to take anything away from them, but you just go out there and play your game. You just let everything hang out and just see what happens.:
Auburn goes into the weekend with the No. 10 seed for the SEC Tournament, but mathematically, it could be as high as No. 5 when the weekend is over.
With an RPI of No. 61, the Tigers must win games this weekend and next week to move on.
Following are possible Auburn scenarios in the push for postseason:
AUBURN SWEEPS FLORIDA
Likely regional scenario: One win in SEC Tournament will probably be enough. Might even get in without it.
FLORIDA SWEEPS AUBURN
Likely regional scenario: Will need to win the SEC Tournament.
AUBURN WINS TWO
Likely regional scenario: One win in the SEC Tournament might be enough. Two almost certainly will be.
FLORIDA WINS TWO
Likely regional scenario: Will probably need to play in the SEC Tournament final to get a bid. Getting to the semifinals will create an outside chance.
Note: Going into its weekend series against Ole Miss, Vanderbilt (26-25, 13-14) holds the No. 9 seed for the SEC Tournament. The Commodores must win one more than they lose against Ole Miss and in the tournament to have a winning record and qualify for a regional. It would help Auburn's chances if the Commodores don't get it done.