AUBURN, Ala. -- The toughest stretch run in college baseball finally has arrived, and Auburn and Georgia must finish strong to lock up a spot in the SEC tournament and possibly the NCAA tournament.
Each team has tough finishing stretches. For Auburn, it's top-25 teams Florida and Arkansas in the final two weeks. Georgia has No. 5 South Carolina left on the schedule.
And that's what makes this weekend's three-game series between the Tigers and the Bulldogs so important, beginning with tonight's series opener at 7:05 p.m. at Foley Field in Athens.
"What we get this weekend, we're certainly going to have to earn it," Auburn coach John Pawlowski said. "Their 1-2 starters on the weekend, (Alex) Wood and (Michael) Palazzone are good and experienced arms."
Wood and Palazzone were denied in Georgia's series loss to LSU last weekend. Wood, who will start tonight's opener against Auburn, held LSU in check last weekend before the bullpen gave up the lead in the eighth inning.
A lefty who is 5-1 with a 2.69 ERA and averages nearly a strikeout per inning, Wood will try to shut down an Auburn lineup that leads the SEC with a .307 batting average in league play.
"They're the best hitting team in the league," Georgia coach David Perno said. "A lot of it hinges on when you catch them. We know we have to keep them at bay."
Auburn (25-29, 10-11) will counter with senior Jon Luke Jacobs (5-1, 3.21 ERA) in tonight's game and freshman lefty Daniel Koger (3-4, 2.69 ERA) on Saturday against Georgia's Michael Palazzone, but the Tigers'Game 3 starting pitcher is still up in the air.
Freshman Trey Cochran-Gill took that slot last week, but he struggled against Tennessee in his first SEC start before Auburn's offense came back.
"Certainly, last weekend was not one of his better efforts, but he's certainly capable of going out there and doing what he needs to do to give us a chance to win," Pawlowski said.
Behind emerging power threat Justin Bryan, Georgia believes its offense can hurt the Tigers' pitching staff after facing Florida and LSU the past two weeks.
"Their pitchers are good, but they're not the power arms we've seen the last two weeks," Perno said.
All but eliminated from a chance to contend for an SEC Tournament spot, Alabama (17-28, 6-15) will try to turn around their downward trend against Mississippi State this weekend at home.
Freshman right-hander Spencer Turnbull might be starting to hit his stride after a rough start to his first season.
Turnbull pitched seven innings of no-hit ball against South Carolina last Friday before lightning forced a postponement.