Auburn Hoping To Rebound In Tiger Classic

Auburn is looking to rebound following a disappointing loss to Alabama State on Wednesday in the home opener.

Auburn, Ala.--When Sunny Golloway took the job as the head baseball coach of the Auburn Tigers one of the things he talked about was not being afraid to change things up early in the season until he found the right combination for his team. Following a disappointing 9-3 loss to Alabama State on Wednesday night in the home opener when the Tigers struggled in just about every phase of the game, that time may be now as his team prepares for the Tiger Classic this weekend at Plainsman Park.

Hitting just .217 as a team with 35 runners left on base in the first four games (35 innings), the offense has struggled to execute Golloway's system so far this season. On the flip side the pitching has been solid at times from the starters, but the bullpen hasn't lived up to advance billing. While the team ERA is a paltry 2.06 so far this year, closer Terrance Dedrick and set-up man Trey Cochran-Gill have both struggled to be the dominant options Golloway was looking for on the back end of games. Because of that he said some changes may be coming and it starts there.

"I think we've got to change," Golloway said. "I'm relying on Coach (Scott) Foxall as far as our pitching because he knows how the guys are responding. I think we've got to change the back end of our pitching (staff). We can't elevate the ball and be able to close or bridge the gap. Those guys have to pitch down in the zone. They've got to be able to punch people out.

"We're going to have to move on. We're going to re-evaluate our bridge the gap (guy). We probably are in a lot more trouble at this point than anyone would have ever imagined. That's one thing about our program — we're not going to run and hide. We're going to toe the line and fix what we've got to and change what we've got to and go from there."

Some of the candidates to get a look at the end of games include Reid Carter, Jacob Milliman, and even possibly Trey Wingenter. Carter has allowed two hits and two unearned runs in two appearances this season while Milliman didn't allow a hit in his only inning of work Wednesday night with a pair of strikeouts. Wingenter hasn't seen action this season.

Leading the way for the anemic Auburn offense is senior catcher Blake Austin. One of only two Tigers hitting over .300 along with true freshman J.J. Shaffer, Austin has three hits in 10 at-bats and has five of Auburn's 14 RBI this year. Suffering from a power outage, the Tigers have just two extra-base hits in 120 at-bats so far in 2014 with one coming from Austin and the other from true freshman right fielder Anfernee Grier.

While Auburn's offense is going to depend on the long ball, getting runners into scoring position is crucial in the game of baseball and that is made easier with extra-base hits sprinkled in along the way. The one positive for the Tigers' offense has been in the stolen base department as the team is 11-14 in that department this year. With the offense unable to put runs up in bunches, look for the running game to become an even bigger part of the offense moving forward.

On Friday night the Tigers will take on Arkansas-Pine Bluff with senior Dillon Ortman on the mound. The Golden Lions enter the weekend 0-6 after opening at Tulane and a midweek doubleheader at Oklahoma. Saturday night the competition ramps up several notches as Auburn squares off against the California Golden Bears at 6 p.m. Senior Michael O'Neal will get the ball for the Tigers.

With an early record of 2-2 after splitting a series against Texas to open the year, the Pac 12 team will be a tough opponent for the Tigers. Sunday at 2 p.m. Auburn will play the final game of the weekend against East Tennessee State with freshman Keegan Thompson making his second start. The Bucs are also 2-2, winning a series against Longwood College before dropping a midweek contest to Furman.

Needing to build some positive momentum moving forward Golloway said he feels like his team will rebound well from the disappointing loss on Wednesday night. As for his preseason goal of making it to Omaha for the College World Series, the first-year coach said nothing he's seen has brought his confidence level down.

"We're going to play in Omaha," Golloway said. "I can't bet you, it's against NCAA rules, but I will take you right now for whatever that we'll play in Omaha. This year."

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