Auburn vs. Illinois-Chicago baseball

Auburn's Tanner Burns pitches during the team's game against Illinois-Chicago on Feb. 14 in Plainsman Park. 

The Tigers remember this series from a year ago.

They remember how tough it was. They remember being beaten and challenged. They remember that nothing seemed to come easy all series long.

They remember a battle.

And that’s exactly what they want again from UCF this time around.

Auburn baseball hosts UCF for a weekend series starting at 3 p.m. today at Plainsman Park, running back a back-and-forth series played down in Orlando last season — and for Auburn this year, offering up the Tigers their first big test so far this season.

Auburn enters 5-0 while UCF steps onto the Plains at 4-1. Auburn won the series with UCF two games to one last year, though the Tigers were pushed and stretched all along the way.

One might think a team wouldn’t want to go through that again. But this early on, the Tigers figure, that’s just what this team needs.

“I’m excited,” Auburn senior Rankin Woley told reporters this week. “We’ve got a big series coming in here.

“It’s going to really be the first test for us to see, ‘How strong are we?’”

Auburn is perfect so far, having swept Illinois-Chicago through four games on opening weekend and then blasting Oakland 17-1 in a midweek on Wednesday.

Last year, it was UCF that handed Auburn only its second loss of the season in the early going, and its first loss in nine innings. Auburn beat UCF 4-1 in the opener then before being quieted in a 6-1 defeat on that Saturday. Auburn’s only other loss at the time had come in extra innings.

Auburn came back to win the high-scoring series finale 13-9 — and, as the team remembers, ended up better for it.

“I think it’s going to be a great series,” Auburn sophomore Ryan Bliss said, looking ahead. “These guys are a good team. Last year, they took a game away from us and we went to game three. We ended up winning it but it was still a dogfight.

“These guys are good. UCF is going to be our biggest test so far and we’re looking forward to it.”

Auburn moved up today’s series opener to 3 p.m. earlier this week due to cold temperatures in the forecast.

Saturday’s game is set for a 2 p.m. first pitch before Sunday’s game is scheduled for a 1 p.m. first pitch.

“This will be a great series,” Auburn head coach Butch Thompson said. “It was a dogfight in Orlando last year against UCF. They have talented players. They’re going to run some big arms, more velocity than we have out of the bullpen to finish the game if they get a lead. We’ve seen it before and we know their style of play. Coach (Greg) Lovelady is going to bring a great team up here.

“We’re going to learn more about our ballclub.”

Auburn is expected to start Tanner Burns on Friday, with Jack Owen starting Saturday and Bailey Horn starting Sunday. All three logged wins last weekend.

Auburn outfields Steven Williams and Kason Howell are expected to be limited if at all available as they recover from hamstring injuries.

“We just have to keep helping each other and guys have to keep stepping up,” Thompson said.

“We’re sitting here and finding a way and playing well while having two of our outfielders out,” he also said. “They’ll be back soon and we want them to be 100 percent, but it’s good to be having success while a couple of key, key players are down for a few games.”

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