AUBURN | The first half of conference play is in the books for No. 10 Auburn with a big showdown against No. 16 Arkansas at Plainsman Park looming this weekend.
The Tigers, 27-11 and 10-5 in the SEC, enter the week tied with Mississippi State for second in the SEC West, one-game behind the first-place Razorbacks.
“I think it’s neat to get to this point and host something like this as you get to the second half of the season,” Auburn coach Butch Thompson told Andy Burcham on an Auburn athletics podcast. “It’s one of those you want to hit head on. You want to go at it wide open. This is what you play for, this is what you compete for.
“Really, our showcase is how well we can continue to play the game of baseball.”
Wade Rackley/Auburn athletics
The teams have contrasting strengths. Arkansas leads the SEC and is ninth nationally with 52 home runs. Auburn starters Casey Mize, Keegan Thompson and Davis Daniel combined to allow just one run in 20 innings during last weekend’s three-game series at Tennessee.
“Our biggest challenge is can we keep the ball in the yard. They’ve hit so many home runs,” Thompson said. “Our marquee deal is we’re going to try and shove it in the strike zone. I’m not going to change because a team comes in with one more SEC victory than us and they’ve hit a bunch of home runs.”
Thompson is expecting a big crowd at Plainsman Park after 11,914 fans attended the last home series against South Carolina, the third-most in school history.
“We’ve been gone for a little while and I hope everybody in the community is anxious and excited to see us come back,” Thompson said. “Our fans make a difference. They give our guys so much energy. They really sensed that in the South Carolina weekend. Boy, that’s what I expect. I expect everybody to be there and pull for these guys and I think they’re going to compete their heart out.”
Auburn, however, has some business to take care of before taking on the Razorbacks. The Tigers conclude an eight-game road trip Tuesday night at Kennesaw State, one of just three non-conference games remaining.
Auburn, which is 4-3 on the trip, beat Kennesaw State 6-4 at home on March 8. Freshman right-hander Christian Camacho (1-1, 6.05 ERA) will start for the Tigers.
“It will be a really good road swing if we can finish this one off tomorrow,” Thompson said. “I hope we score tomorrow. I hope we do like last Tuesday. We need to keep pushing it.
“If I’m pushing anywhere in our program right now, I’m pushing for at-bats just to continue to have our offense grow.”
First pitch at Stillwell Stadium is scheduled for 5 p.m. CT on ESPN3. Game times for the Arkansas series will be 6 p.m. Friday, 1 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday.