photo: Zach Bland/AU media
Auburn Baseball began the second half of the SEC season this past weekend with a series sweep of rival Georgia. It was the first SEC sweep for Auburn in three seasons. And it couldn’t have come at a better time.
The Tigers entered the series with a 7-11 league record and questions about making the conference tournament in three weeks.
They silenced those questions with great pitching and solid defense. The Dogs could only muster four runs in three games. It marked the first time Auburn Baseball has held an opponents to two or fewer runs in five consecutive games since Feb. 25-March 4, 2003.
The now 10-11 (29-16 overall) Tigers are almost certain to make it to Hoover and actually have a realistic chance of qualifying for an NCAA Regional for the first time since 2010. The 10 wins match the Tigers’ total conference wins in 2014 with nine games to go. In addition, Auburn’s five game winning streak leads the conference.
It has been quite a turnaround for a team that started league play 1-5. Since then the Tigers are 9-6 with a current RPI national ranking of 19 against the fourth-toughest schedule in the nation. This writer thinks the difference in this year and last is the coaching style of Sunny Golloway.
It is well known that Golloway came into Auburn last year riding his new team hard while boasting he expected them to play in the College World Series. The result? Auburn failed to make the SEC Tournament much less the NCAA – despite having enough talent.
This year he has giving them room to make mistakes with out fear of being berated or booted off the team. He has tried to become more of a player’s coach, speaking often of team unity as well as his affection for his team.
Case in point was his reaction to media questions about his team making a regional after defeating UGA. “I’ll probably be able to answer that a lot better down the road, but, right now, what does it mean? Confidence more than anything. They’re having a lot of fun,” said Golloway. “They like being around each other. They care about one another.”
So now that the Tigers have a supportive coach, what does Auburn need to do to increase their odds to make it to their first NCAA Regional in five years?
Of course the short answer is win out. But the realistic answer is to continue what has brought on their late season success.
First, the Tigers have lived off of great pitching and will need Keegan Thompson, Cole Lipscomb, and Rocky McCord to continue confusing and striking out batters. Second, the starters will need strong support from the bullpen.
Justin Camp’s seven saves are just one save short of Auburn’s single-season top 10 list and the bullpen’s 14 total saves is tied for eighth-most in Auburn history. Finally, additional run support could seal the deal as the offense has at times had a tendency to strand runners.
After a home game tonight against Kennesaw State, Auburn will play South Carolina on the road this weekend and Alabama at home next week, before closing out against No.8 Florida in Gainesville.
If the Tigers win at least 3-4 of those remaining nine conference games, and avoid being swept on the road, they’ll have a good chance of making an NCAA Regional for the first time in five years. If they win at least six of the nine … you can bet on it!
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