FAYETTEVILLE - The No. 7 University of Arkansas baseball team jumps back into Southeastern Conference play with a three-game series against the Auburn Tigers this weekend. The matchup of Western Division rivals will take place at Baum Stadium, beginning with Friday's game one which is scheduled for a 6:35 p.m. start. The series will also pit the conference's top two offenses against one another.
Cox Sports Television (Ch. 119 in Northwest Arkansas) will carry games one and three of the Arkansas-Auburn series. Mike Nail and Ron Swoboda will handle the play-by-play and color commentary duties for the network. The three-game series will follow the familiar home weekend schedule of 6:35 p.m. on Friday, 2:05 p.m. on Saturday and 1:05 p.m. on Sunday.
"(Auburn) has a veteran team," head coach Dave Van Horn said. "The guys that are putting up these big offensive numbers have been in that lineup three years now and they're putting it all together. Their big first baseman (Hunter Morris) is having an incredible year. His extra-base hits total is way up there. There are good hitters around him, too, so they're really tough. You really just have to outscore them."
Auburn leads the all-time series with Arkansas, 33-29. Last season, the Razorbacks swept a three-game series on Auburn's home field. Arkansas has won seven of the past 10 meetings between the two teams and owns a 15-12 advantage in games played in Fayetteville. All meetings between Arkansas and Auburn have come since the Razorbacks joined the SEC in 1992.
The Hogs carry a 34-8 overall record into the weekend with a 13-5 mark in SEC play. Arkansas holds a three-game lead over Auburn (28-14, 10-8) in the Western Division standings. In this week's release of national rankings, the Razorbacks are as high as No. 7 according to USA Today/ESPN Coaches' and NCBWA polls. Arkansas is the eighth-ranked team in the country in the Collegiate Baseball poll and sits at No. 9 with Baseball America. Auburn is ranked No. 27 in the Collegiate Baseball poll this week.
Arkansas is second in the SEC with a .325 team batting average, but leads the conference with its .329 batting average during league play. Zack Cox is hitting an SEC-best .436 this season to pace the Razorbacks' lineup. Collin Kuhn is seventh in the league with his .380 batting average. Brett Eibner has moved into a tie for first place in the SEC with 14 home runs, and Andy Wilkins has 52 RBI, the fourth-highest total in the conference.
The Razorbacks' rotation this weekend is scheduled to feature Drew Smyly, Randall Fant and Eibner. Smyly, Friday's starter, is 6-0 with a 2.22 ERA in 10 appearances, and eight starts, this season. He has 62 strikeouts in 56.2 innings of work and is holding opposing hitters to a .220 batting average. Through seven starts, Fant is 3-0 with a 2.60 ERA. Eibner is slated to start the finale for Arkansas with his 3-3 mark and 4.04 ERA. He has made a team-high 10 starts. Collectively, the Hogs' staff has a 3.70 team ERA, the third-lowest figure in the SEC.
Including Morris, Auburn's potent lineup features four of the top 12 hitters in the league. Morris is hitting .403 with 13 home runs and 53 RBI. Brian Fletcher shares the team's home run lead with Morris and has 49 RBI to his credit. Entering the week, Tigers were seventh in the country in batting average. With its midweek win over Samford, Auburn pushed its team average to .351.
The Tigers will start Cory Luckie (5-2, 6.64 ERA) in the series opener and Grant Dayton (4-2, 5.14 ERA) in the finale. No starter has been named for Saturday's contest as of yet.
This weekend's broadcasts during the Auburn series will mark Arkansas' eighth and ninth appearances on CST. Fans can also tune in to the action on the Razorback Sports Network from ISP. Chuck Barrett will have the call as the network's play-by-play announcer. There will be an audio and video stream available at the online home of Razorback athletics, ArkansasRazorbacks.com.