AUBURN – Through the strange bounces, the great escapes and the disappointing losses, Auburn’s baseball team has arrived at season’s last Plainsman Park series with its goals within reach.
Jon Luke Jacobs will be tonight's starter against Alabama
Adding to the drama of the weekend, Alabama will be the opponent. The Tigers and Tide play the first game in a three-game series tonight at 6.
In the wild and crazy Southeastern Conference West, the Tigers (26-23, 11-13) are one of five teams within a game and a half of first place. Alabama (30-20, 12-12) and Arkansas (32-15, 12-12) are tied for first. Mississippi State (31-18, 12-13) moved at least temporarily into third Thursday night with a 7-6 win at Ole Miss (27-22, 11-14).
Junior Jon Luke Jacobs (1-3, 3.18), coming off back-to-back strong starts, will get the call on the mound tonight against Nathan Kilcrease (5-4, 3.55). Ace Derek Varnadore (5-2, 3.41) will go Saturday against Adam Morgan (5-4, 3.55). Neither team has announced a Sunday starter.
Jacobs, from Jackson High School, knows the significance of what is to come.
“We need to win ballgames,” Jacobs said. “With Alabama coming in, it means a little bit more. We’re not going to change how we go about things just because it’s Alabama.”
Five seniors, three of them Alabamians, will be in the lineup tonight. Wes Gilmer will be at third, Justin Hargett at second base, Kevin Patterson at first base, Tony Caldwell at catcher and Justin Fradejas in right field.
For Gilmer, it will be particularly meaningful. It will be his first start against Alabama.
“It’s real exciting,” Gilmer said. “It’s a big weekend with such a tight race in the West. Our opponent being Alabama is even better. It’s an important weekend for both teams.”
Third-year Auburn coach John Pawlowski said the wild scramble in the West is unlike anything he’s seen.
“When you look at it, a one-game swing could be the difference in a lot of different areas,” Pawlowski said. “The players understand the importance of each game and each series. I don’t know if it’s ever happened like this. Maybe it has, but it’s pretty amazing.”
For Auburn, which closes the regular season next weekend at Tennessee, there are numerous possibilities. The Tigers could be the No. 2 seed in the SEC Tournament, or they could finish as low as 10th in the overall standings.
Pawlowski says he senses a sense of urgency in his players, who have won four of their last five SEC series.
“I don’t know if it’s because of playing Alabama,” Pawlowski said. “I think it’s a little more because of the situation we are in. I felt it last weekend against Georgia. I think, regardless of who we are playing, everybody is feeling it.”