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FRIDAY, APRIL 13, 2007
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USC coach says Auburn better than its record

By Bradley Handwerger
bhandwerger@decaturdaily.com · 340-2462

Ray Tanner knows better than to look at Auburn's early play in the Southeastern Conference and make any estimates about how the Tigers are as a team.

Instead, the South Carolina head coach would rather look at what Auburn has done as a whole.

He might want to focus on the past two weeks, however.

Auburn (24-12, 3-9 SEC) travels to South Carolina (26-7, 7-5) this weekend for an important conference set.

The Tigers need the wins to remain in the hunt for a postseason berth. They're riding a stretch where they have won four of their past five games, three of which came in conference play.

"Their SEC record is misleading," Tanner said. "They were tremendous before league-play opened, but lost some close ones. We know we're going to have to be our best. (Auburn is) going to make a tremendous amount of noise in the second half of the season."

Auburn head coach Tom Slater only can hope so. Going against the nation's fourth-ranked club won't make things easy.

Then again, when you can throw an undefeated freshman starter Saturday, it doesn't make it easy for the opponent.

Slater has freshman right-hander Taylor Thompson slated to start Saturday. Thompson, the reigning SEC freshman of the week, is 4-0 and boasts a 2.95 ERA, best on the team for any pitcher with at least 25 innings of work.

And with Thompson being a first-year player, opposing batters don't know what they're going to get.

Thompson's success doesn't surprise Slater.

"He was one of the top players out of Alabama," Slater said. "The kid could have very easily signed a professional contract."

Thompson, who throws in the low- to mid-90s, has 34 strikeouts this season and has surrendered 40 hits in 146 at-bats.

But it's not Thompson who Tanner is concerned about.

Auburn's dynamic duo of Josh Donaldson and Mike Bianucci worry the South Carolina skipper.

"You've got to keep Donaldson and Bianucci in the ballpark," Tanner said. "There's a reason you don't sleep but three hours Thursday night."

Donaldson is batting .356, has a team-high 40 RBIs and is tied for the team-lead with eight homers. Bianucci is hitting .309, has five double and 30 RBIs.

But Bianucci has been out of the lineup since separating his shoulder against South Alabama on April 3.

He went through practice Wednesday and felt OK, Slater added. But, the coach said, Bianucci won't play if he's not feeling up to it.

"He'll go, and hopefully he'll play," Slater said. "He swung the bat yesterday for first time and felt way better. It was shoulder separation. Those things take time."

Auburn will start sophomore Paul Burnside (5-1, 3.08 ERA) against South Carolina junior Harris Honeycutt (7-0, 1.43) in Friday's 6 p.m. showdown. Saturday will see Thompson take on Gamecocks junior Arik Hempy (2-0, 2.84).

And Sunday, Justin Bristow (1-3, 5.84) will face a South
Carolina pitcher yet to be named.

Auburn baseball

  • Friday’s game:Auburn (24-12, 3-9 SEC) at No. 4 South Carolina(26-7, 7-5), 6 p.m.

  • Saturday’s game:Auburn at South Carolina, 4 p.m.

  • Sunday’s game:Auburn at South Carolina, 12:30 p.m.

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