Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Mitchell Pe Masilun GROUND FLOOR: Arkansas' Carson Shaddy throws to first base after fielding a ground ball during the Razorbacks' 2-0 victory over Memphis Wednesday night at Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock. Arkansas starts a three-game Southeastern Conference series at Auburn tonight.

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Mitchell Pe Masilun GROUND FLOOR: Arkansas' Carson Shaddy throws to first base after fielding a ground ball during the Razorbacks' 2-0 victory over Memphis Wednesday night at Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock. Arkansas starts a three-game Southeastern Conference series at Auburn tonight.

Best in SEC West meet in Auburn tonight

By Nate Allen
This article was published April 21, 2017 at 4:00 a.m.

FAYETTEVILLE -- The best in the Southeastern Conference West collide in Auburn, Ala.

Arkansas, 31-8 overall and leading the West at 11-4, and the Auburn Tigers, 28-11 overall and tied with Mississippi State at 10-5 for second best in the division, meet at 6 p.m. today, 1 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at Samford Stadium.

The SEC Network televises Sunday's game. Tonight's and Saturday's games are available on Internet video on SECN+ with all three games between the nationally ranked 12th Tigers and the 14th ranked Razorbacks' in the USA Today coaches' poll broadcast on the Razorbacks' radio network.

Though for the first time this season losing a SEC series, two out of three last weekend at Texas A&M, second-year coach Butch Thompson's Tigers outslugged Samford 16-15 in a Tuesday night non-conference game.

Tonight because of ace right-hander Casey Mize's arm soreness, Thompson shuffles the rotation.

Right-hander Keegan Thompson, 4-1, 1.29 ERA and normally Auburn's second SEC game starter, starts tonight.

Freshman right-hander Davis Daniel, 3-0, 4.00, normally Auburn's Sunday starter, starts Saturday.

Sunday's Auburn starter is to be announced. If the soreness abates, that could be Mize 6-1, 1.23 earned run average with 82 strikeouts vs. eight walks in 58 2-3 innings

Dave Van Horn's Razorbacks, on a six-game winning streak starting with an April 11 non-conference victory at Missouri State in Springfield, Mo,. swept three SEC games from Georgia last weekend at Baum Stadium then swept non-conference opponent Memphis, 16-7 Tuesday night in Fayetteville and 2-0 Wednesday night in North Little Rock. Tonight, they counter Auburn's ace with their own, sophomore right-hander Blaine Knight, 6-1, 1.89 overall with 59 strikeouts vs. six walks in 52 1/3 innings and 5-0 in five SEC series-opening starts with a 1.36 SEC ERA.

"You look at both teams," Van Horn said after Wednesday night's game in North Little Rock. "Auburn is as hot as they can be. We're pitching well, hitting well, fielding well. This is one of the biggest series that both teams have played in in a couple of years."

Right-hander Trevor Stephan, 4-2, 2.96 with 63 strikeouts vs 10 walks starts Saturday for Arkansas.

"They have great pitching," Van Horn said. " If they give us anything, we have to take advantage whether it's a fielding play or it's a pitch that's left up in the zone. They're just really good. And they're playing at their place. I'm sure it will be kind of a hostile. We'll see how we can handle it."

Auburn closer Cole Lipscomb is 3-0 with five saves.

Arkansas' Sunday starter also likely won't be announced until after Saturday's game.

Previous SEC third-game starter Josh Alberius is more likely to close as he did Wednesday night in North Little Rock finishing the final two innings on behalf of sophomore left-hander Kacey Murphy.

Had Murphy started Tuesday night instead of Wednesday and pitched like he did Wednesday, a seven-inning one-hitter with a seventh-inning bunt the hit, he likely would be Sunday's starter. However Murphy starting Sunday on just three days rest off a career long seven innings and 90 pitches seems unlikely.

If not spent today or Saturday in relief, right-handers Kevin Kopps, Dominic Taccolini, Barrett Loseke or Alberius are Sunday starting possibilities.

Auburn's attack is paced by center fielder Jonah Todd, .385 batting average, designated hitter Conor Davis, .325, first baseman/outfielder Robert Daniel, .310 and a team-leading 33 RBI, and shortstop Luke Jarvis, .290 and a team-leading four home runs.

Though held to two runs Wednesday, Arkansas packs more swat.

In SEC games, Luke Bonfield, SEC Player of the Week off his performances against Missouri State and Georgia, bats .339, while designated hitter/outfielder Eric Cole hits .364 and nine-hole hitting shortstop Jax Biggers hits .360.

Slugging senior first baseman Chad Spanberger, whose two-run home run made the scoreboard difference Wednesday night, for his 15 SEC games hits .354 and has hit six of his season's nine home runs and driven home 25 of his season's 42 RBI.

In North Little Rock, Spanberger was asked about Auburn.

"They're just like us," he said. "They hit. They pitch. They do it all. It's a big weekend. We take two, we're still in the lead in the conference. Our goal coming in this was to win the West, and so far, we're doing it."

Sports on 04/21/2017
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