Pitching Holds The Key As AU Opens SEC Play

Auburn will take on Texas A&M at home this weekend in the opening series of SEC play.

Auburn, Ala.--On a five-game winning streak following mid-week victories over Kennesaw State and Alabama State, Coach Sunny Golloway and the Auburn Tigers (11-6) jump into SEC play this weekend against Texas A&M for a three-game series at Plainsman Park. With a record of 13-5 overall, the Aggies will present a tough challenge for the Tigers this weekend, but Golloway said the biggest thing will be controlling the excitement of not only his players, but also himself as he gets his first taste of the Southeastern Conference.

Playing well at the moment and with some confidence gained by winning five in a row, Golloway said taking care of business early in the schedule is huge to continue that momentum and also to take the pressure off later in the season.

Something that should help Golloway is a familiarity with this weekend's opponent. Longtime rivals in the Big 12 when he was at Oklahoma, the new Auburn coach knows Texas A&M coach Rob Childress very well. A team that likes to play situational baseball as well, hitting .281 as a team with eight home runs and 23 stolen bases, the Aggies rely on pitching and defense to win games. It's something that Golloway said should be familiar to his team when it hits the field this weekend.

"We spent a lot of time going at each other in the Big 12," Golloway said of Childress. "I know what kind of team he's going to bring in. They're going to play tough. He's a tough coach on them, they're going to play fast, and they're going to be pitching-heavy. That's what they rely on – pitching and defense, and scrapping runs. They're probably mirroring what we're trying to build here.

"They've already had their round through the SEC, and I'm getting mine. But we've got some guys that have got experience on our side. It's their first time to come here, so I expect our veterans to step up and carry us a little bit this weekend. But who knows – until we get into week three or four of the SEC, who knows who's going to be really good in our conference? We just need to get off to a good start at home."

Getting off to a good start will mean getting quality pitching, both in a starting role and out of the bullpen. Starting senior Dillon Ortman (3-1, 2.49 ERA) on Friday night, freshman Keegan Thompson (3-0, 0.30) on Saturday and sophomore Justin Camp (1-1, 2.10) on Sunday, Golloway said he's happy with his rotation and it allows him to keep veteran left-hander Michael O'Neal in the bullpen if needed.

"Nothing against (Michael) O'Neal, but Camp just threw it too well to not be in our rotation," Golloway said. "Keegan (Thompson) has got to be in our rotation, and you can't say enough about what (Dillon) Ortman has done as our lead guy. So we've got to go like that. If we need O'Neal, we can go to O'Neal for some long relief or a couple of lefties here and there, and if we don't, he'll go try to win that midweek game for us. We'll kind of ride that rotation. I think we're starting to settle into something."

Keegan Thompson has been rock solid to start his Auburn career

Out of the bullpen the Tigers will likely count on three players at the end of games the first weekend and while senior Terrence Dedrick and junior Trey Cochran-Gill aren't a surprise, the rise of senior Jay Wade in the ranks has been one of the biggest news stories of the year for Auburn. With a record of 2-0 in six appearances, Wade has allowed just two hits in nine and two/thirds innings this season. He has struck out seven and has yet to walk a batter. Those kinds of numbers make him the perfect addition at the end in a set-up role for the Tigers.

"He's been such a good example for all our guys," Golloway said. "I thought Coach (Scott) Foxhall said it best when he said, ‘Honestly, guys, who here thought Jay Wade was going to be our most dependable guy out of the bullpen, other than Trey Cochran-Gill and Terrance Dedrick?' The whole staff is saying that nobody would have guessed that.

"But he pitches fast, he works quick, he's down in the zone and he spins the ball. And he knows where the ball is going to finish. We've got some guys that can learn from him. If they'll just do what he's doing, they can learn. But they go out there and try to overthrow and elevate the ball. We've seen the ball get elevated and get hammered. But when it's down in the zone, we can get some quick outs. So Jay Wade has been a huge shot in the arm for this bullpen."

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Auburn was without the services of freshman right fielder Anfernee Grier on Wednesday night and Golloway said they believe he could have a hairline fracture in his hand. He's expected to be checked out by doctors on Thursday and his status for the weekend is unknown. If he's out for an extended period of time it would be a blow to Auburn's offense. He's currently hitting .300 in his first season with the Tigers. If he can't go the Tigers would likely got with freshman J.J. Shaffer or sophomore Jackson Burgreen his place. Both are hitting just .111 in 27 combined at-bats so far in 2014.

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