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Series Preview: Red-Hot Auburn Comes To Tennessee

Tennessee bounced back from its two-game losing streak by rattling off seven straight wins entering this weekend’s series with No. 19 Auburn.

The Tigers come to Knoxville winners of four of their last five SEC series including a sweep of South Carolina last weekend.

Let’s take a look at Auburn entering the weekend series.

How The Tigers Got Here

Auburn has bounced back from Butch Thompson’s worst season since his first on the plains with a strong 2022 team. The Tigers (30-12, 11-7 SEC) are currently tied for third in the conference with Georgia and sit behind only Arkansas in the SEC west.

Auburn was solid in pre-conference play, earning wins over Texas Tech and Kansas State. However, the end of pre-conference play and the start of SEC play didn’t bode well for Auburn.

The Tigers lost a weekend series to Middle Tennessee before dropping two-out-of-three to Ole Miss at home to open conference play.

From there, Auburn has been fantastic, winning four of its five SEC series including victories over Vanderbilt, at Texas A&M and at LSU.

Pitching Matchups

Gallatin, Tennessee native Hayden Mullins will open the weekend for a balanced Auburn weekend rotation. The left-handed junior has a 2-1 record and 3.55 ERA in seven starts and three relief appearances this season.

“We’ll face a kid Hayden Mullins who’s a lefty,” Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello said. “Came out of high school as a potential first rounder out of high school … he’s one of those kids who’s from Tennessee who we were hoping to turn this program around with Tennessee kids. He selected Auburn and I believe it’s gone well for him, but he’s a tough lefty we’ll see to start the game.”

Mullins has been better in SEC play, however, posting a 3.16 ERA. However, the junior hasn’t pitched more than 5.1 innings in conference play. Mullins will match up against Tennessee freshman and fellow Gallatin, Tennessee native Chase Burns (7-1, 2.12 ERA).

Blade Tidwell will earn his second straight Saturday start for Tennessee since a deep bruise in Chase Dollander’s right arm has sidelined the talented sophomore. Tidwell shined in his first SEC start, shutting out Florida for 4.1 innings while allowing just three baserunners.

The sophomore should be able to go deeper this weekend after making his first appearance of over two innings this season in Gainesville.

Auburn junior Trace Bright will start for the Tigers on Saturday night. The Montgomery native has a 2-4 record and 4.24 ERA. However, Bright has struggled in conference play, throwing just 28 innings in six starts while posting a 6.75 ERA.

Auburn Sunday starter Jacob Gonzalez (6-0, 1.71 ERA) is the Tigers’ best weekend starter. The left-handed pitcher has made just four starts in SEC play, but has been dominant allowing just six earned runs in 30 innings pitched.

Sunday’s pitching matchup should be the weekend’s best with Tennessee freshman Drew Beam (8-0, 1.86 ERA) looking to bounce back from his first rocky start of SEC play.

RHP Blake Burkhalter (2.87 ERA in 31.1 IP), LHP Carson Skipper (3.00 ERA in 36 IP) and RHP Chase Allsup (2.08 ERA in 17 IP) lead the way for a thin Auburn bullpen. 

Auburn Bats To Know

Samford transfer Sonny DiChiaro is one of the stories in the SEC this season. A strong power hitter and an upper .200s hitter in three years at Samford, DiChiaro has put up laughable numbers this season at Auburn.

DiChiaro is hitting .448 with 15 doubles, 12 home runs and 38 RBIs while posting a ridiculous 1.457 OPS.

Leadoff hitter Blake Rambusch is hitting .379 with 12 extra-base hits while posting an impressive .456 on-base percentage. Rambusch has 11 stolen bases this season which will be worth watching as teams continue to be aggressive on the base paths against Tennessee.

“We’ll obviously have the task, the tall task that everyone’s had, of trying to get Sonny DiChiaro out,” Vitello said. “There’s some Italian blood in there so you can’t hate him too much, but he will be wearing a different color and he’s a huge threat. The numbers are off the charts and he sits in the middle of the lineup like a couple of our big thumpers do but he is also surrounded by guys, starting at the top one of the better leadoff hitters in the league. It is a well balanced attack.”

Senior Kason Howell is a base stealing threat as well, taking eight bases in nine attempts this season. The outfielder is hitting .305 with 14 doubles on the season.

Besides DiChiaro, Auburn’s power hitting is pedestrian. Only two Tigers have five or more home runs on the season and Auburn ranks 11th in the SEC in long balls.

Game Times/How To Watch

Friday — 7 p.m. ET first pitch on SEC Network.

Saturday — 7 p.m. ET first pitch on SEC Network.

Sunday — 1 p.m. ET first pitch can be streamed on SEC Network+.

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