Stretch run looms for Tigers

AUBURN – For Auburn’s baseball team, there is no more margin for error. A stretch run looms that could lead at the top of the Southeastern Conference West Division, to the bottom or anywhere in between.

Jon Luke Jacobs will get the start for Auburn on Friday night.

It starts Friday night with the first game of a three-game series against Georgia at Plainsman Park. A week later, Alabama comes to town. The final regular-season series is at Tennessee. There is a home game against Alabama State and trips to Samford and South Alabama.

John Pawlowski’s third season as head coach could still be memorable or it could be forgettable.

“As you start winding down, with the number of opportunities you have, each game because more and more important,” Pawlowski said. It becomes time to execute and get it done. The West being wild as it is, it’s still up for grabs.”

Yes, it is.

Despite having been swept for the third time last weekend at South Carolina, Auburn (23-21, 9-12) is just a game out of first place in the West. Alabama (28-19, 10-11) and Arkansas (29-13, 10-11) share the lead. Auburn is tied with Ole Miss (24-20, 9-12). Mississippi State (25-18, 8-13) is lurking just a game behind. LSU (28-17, 7-14) is in last place but just three games out of first.

Both Auburn and Georgia have been consistently tested. Georgia’s strength of schedule is ranked No. 1 nationally. Auburn’s is No. 2. The Bulldogs (24-21, 13-8) is fourth in the East but is 9-3 against West Division teams.

“Mathematically, it’s pretty difficult to figure out right now,” Pawlowski said. “We just need to move forward down the stretch. I would guess it’s probably going to come down to the last weekend like it has many, many times in the SEC.”

Jon Luke Jacobs (1-3, 3.32), who had a career game last Friday at South Carolina, will get the starting nod for Auburn on the mound Friday night. He limited the Gamecocks to a run on five hits in eight innings, but watched helplessly as Dillon Ortman took the loss in the bottom of the ninth.

“I thought he pitched well in and out of the zone,” Pawlowski said. “He did a really good job in advantage counts of pitching outside the zone, making guys chase his breaking ball, elevating his fastball. I thought he did a great job.”

Derek Varnadore (4-2, 3.92) will get the call Saturday. No starter has been announced for Sunday.

Pitching has been Georgia’s strength. The Bulldogs will start left-hander Alex Wood (4-5, 4.23) on Friday, right-hander Michael Palazzone (8-1, 2.14) on Saturday and left-hander Craig Gullickson (3-2, 6.14) on Sunday.

BASEBALL NOTES

The status of left-hander Cory Luckie, who walked five and gave up three hits in 1 1/3 innings Sunday at South Carolina, is uncertain for this weekend. Luckie did not pitch the previous weekend against Ole Miss because of arm problems. Pawlowski said those problems returned last Sunday.

“We will evaluate him today to see if he will be available at all this weekend,” Pawlowski said. “Hopefully, he’ll be able to help us. He said his arm was fine and he felt good. It just wasn’t. He’s a tough competitor and wants to be out there. Unfortunately, he wasn’t feeling as good as he had hoped.” …

Third baseman/designated hitter Dan Gamache left last Saturday’s game with a hamstring injury and did not play Sunday. Pawlowski said he’s feeling better and should be available against Georgia. …

Left fielder and leadoff hitter Bobby Andrews, perhaps Auburn’s hottest offensive player before suffering a wrist injury making a diving catch against Ole Miss, will not be available to hit or play in the field against Georgia.

“He is still probably a couple of weeks out from swinging the bat or bunting or anything,” Pawlowski said. “He’s available to pinch run if we decide to put him on the roster. He’s making progress, but it hasn’t been as quick as we had hoped or he had hoped.” …

In other games involving West Division teams this weekend, LSU plays at Alabama, Arkansas hosts Florida, Ole Miss hosts South Carolina and Mississippi State plays at Tennessee.

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