The last time Derek Varnadore stepped on the mound he fanned 11 batters as the Auburn Ace won the season opener 5-2 over the Missouri Tigers. That was February 17th. Today at 5 p.m. he is scheduled to be the starter in the first game of a three game series againstArizona in Tucson.
The off season shoulder surgery Varny had didn’t appear to bother him as he struck out those11 batters in seven innings last Friday in Samford Stadium.
Auburn pitching has looked good in this young season and the team as a whole has looked good – playing small ball almost to perfection. The new look Tigers emphasis on speed and defense has put them at the top of some SEC categories.
The team’s league leading 20 stolen bases accounts for 45 percent of all of last year’s total of 44. The Tigers stole 12 of those bases during their two-game series with Alcorn State this week. Outfielder Jay Gonzalez is the SEC’s leading SEC base thief, capturing seven out of eight attempts.
On offense Auburn goes into the Arizona game with the best team batting average (.350) in the SEC.
Creed Simpson sporting a .500 average is on a nine game hitting streak with four stolen bases. And Jay Gonzalez has a five-game hitting streak and has gone 7-for-8 in stolen bases.
As a team the Tigers lead the SEC in doubles with 18 and in times hit by a pitch at 14. First baseman Garrett Cooper is tied for second in the SEC in RBIs with eight.
Those are impressive numbers but the Tigers will not be playing Alcorn State this weekend. They will be playing the No. 8 team in the nation.
The Wildcats have averaged nearly 38 wins per year since 2007. They are an experienced team with two pitchers and five starting position players back from a team that went 39-21 and played in their second consecutive NCAA Regional.
The only other time Auburn has played Arizona was in the 1993 NCAA Midwest Regional in Stillwater, Okla. Auburn won that contest 9-1 behind the pitching of then Auburn Ace John Powell. He threw a complete game, struck out 14 and finished the year as the NCAA’s Strike Out Leader. A distinction he still holds today with 602 Ks.
Today’s Auburn Ace is capable of that type of play. If the Tigers can get that kind of performance from Varnadore today and from Daniel Koger and Slade Smith tomorrow, they should come home from their first road trip with at least two out of three wins.