Tall task awaits Tigers at No. 2 South Carolina

Sitting in a three-way tie for first place in the SEC West, the Auburn baseball team will visit one of the three co-leaders in the SEC East this weekend as it travels to No. 2 S. Carolina.

None of the teams Auburn beat — Kentucky, LSU and Ole Miss — to regain its footing in the SEC West can measure up to South Carolina.

None of them can boast a 2.63 team ERA, a No. 2 national ranking or the distinction of being the reigning College World Series champion.

The closest approximation the Tigers have for the test that awaits them this weekend in Columbia, S.C., comes from an early season game against top-ranked Virginia and a three-game set against Vanderbilt — also ranked No. 2 in some polls — at the beginning of April.

Auburn lost all four games by a combined score of 41-12, in its home park.

“South Carolina is one of the elite teams, not only in our conference, but in our country,” Tigers coach John Pawlowski said. “They are very talented and are a solid team.”

“They seem like they’re a very similar team (to Virginia and Vanderbilt).”

Auburn (23-18, 9-9 SEC) enters its road series against the Gamecocks (32-8, 14-4) on a bit of a roll after reversing its 2-7 conference start to land in a three-way tie at the top of the SEC West with Ole Miss and Arkansas.

But the Tigers have not won a series from South Carolina since 1997, even though they have split the first two games of the series before dropping the finale in each of their last two trips to Columbia.

“We’re going into a hostile environment, probably one of the best places in college baseball to play if you’re the home team,” junior third baseman Dan Gamache said. “But it’s tough to play there if you’re on the road.”

Auburn will still be without the services of a healthy Bobby Andrews, the freshman left fielder who injured his wrist diving for a ball against Ole Miss after reaching base in six of his first seven plate appearances in the series.

Andrews has missed the past three games, and Pawlowski said he’d be able to pinch run this weekend, but probably not much else.

Junior Cory Luckie’s continuing bout with arm soreness still has the rotation in flux, but Pawlowski said Luckie could get thrown into the mix on Sunday after juniors Jon Luke Jacobs and Derek Varnadore take the hill for the Tigers tonight at Saturday.

Varnadore is still coming back from arm soreness that cost him a start two weeks ago and limited him to 85 pitches last week.

“With Varnadore, it gives an extra day of rest, and that definitely helps him,” Pawlowski said. “Jon Luke’s been there before, and he can certainly do a great job for us.”

South Carolina’s injury woes have struck in the outfield, where Jackie Bradley Jr., the MVP of last year’s College World Series, injured his left wrist last weekend and is having possible season-ending surgery on it today.

Evan Marzilli missed the Gamecocks’ midweek game against Liberty with a rapid heartbeat and is questionable for this weekend, and Adam Matthews has missed the past six games after re-aggravating a hamstring injury.

South Carolina has still won 15 of its past 18 games and has yet to lose an SEC series this season.

“We’re really excited about it,” Gamache said. “We’re going to get out there and compete. We just need to get after it, get ahead and keep doing what we’re doing.”

Auburn (23-18, 9-9) at No. 2 South Carolina (32-8, 14-4), Carolina Stadium

Tonight, 6 p.m.
Radio/TV: WKKR 97.7 FM/SportSouth

Probable Starters: RHP Jon Luke Jacobs (Jr., 1-3, 3.90) vs. LHP Michael Roth (Jr., 9-1, 1.26)

Saturday, 6 p.m.
Radio/TV: WKKR 97.7 FM/SportSouth

Probable Starters: RHP Derek Varnadore (Jr., 4-1, 3.67) vs. RHP Colby Holmes (So., 3-1, 4.12)

Sunday, 2 p.m.
Radio/TV: WKKR 97.7 FM/ESPN

Probable Starters: TBA vs. RHP Forrest Koumas (Fr., 4-0, 2.85)

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