As the West Division hits the home stretch, Auburn faces perhaps most daunting task of the season this weekend.
Jon Luke Jacobs struggled in his start last Sunday.
Though there is a three-way tie at the top, the Tigers 23-18, 9-9) have the upper hand on Arkansas (28-11, 9-9) and Ole Miss (24-17, 9-9) because they beat both head to head. Arkansas goes on the road to Georgia this weekend, and Ole Miss travels to No. 5 Florida. Alabama, a game out of first, plays Mississippi State at home.
“Obviously, South Carolina is one of the elite teams, not only in our conference but in the country,” Auburn coach John Pawlowski said. “They are very talented. You look at their pitching staff and their lineup and it’s just a solid team. They play very well at home.”
The Gamecocks are 32-8 overall and 14-4 in the SEC. They are tied atop the East with Florida and Vanderbilt and have the tiebreakers on both. They have not lost an SEC series this season. In SEC games at home, they are 7-2.
Jon Luke Jacobs, knocked out early last Sunday against Ole Miss, will get the first crack at the Gamecocks on the mound. Ace Derek Varnadore will start Saturday. Corey Luckie, coming back from a sore arm, is expected to start Sunday if he’s not needed in relief earlier.
Pawlowski said he expects a better outing from Jacobs, who lasted just two innings and gave up five runs, three of them earned, against Ole Miss. Auburn rallied to win 9-7.
“In his bullpen, we made a minor adjustment,” Pawlowski said. “He felt very comfortable and confident. It was just kind of a mechanical adjustment. He had a good bullpen session. He should be good to go.”
The same can’t be said for left fielder Bobby Andrews. One of the Tigers’ hotter hitters going into last weekend, he suffered a sprained wrist on Friday and has not played since. Pawlowski said he will be available to pinch run or bunt, but nothing more.
The first game of a three-game series gets under way tonight at 6 CDT.