Auburn Doomed By Lack Of Offense In 2014

Auburn's lack of offensive production proved to be too much to overcome in a disappointing 2014 baseball season.

Auburn, Ala.--Returning a core of experienced veterans and a very talented class of newcomers, Coach Sunny Golloway had high expectations for his first Auburn team when he led the baseball Tigers into the 2014 season. Now with a full season under his belt the former Oklahoma coach is left shaking his head after his team was swept by LSU over the weekend to miss the SEC Tournament and finish the season just 10-20 in SEC play.

That included eight consecutive home conference losses to end the year, the most in school history. Previously, Auburn last lost six-straight SEC games at home in both 2006 and 2008.

Finishing with a very respectable team ERA of 3.34 and a fielding percentage of .970, which tied the 2002 and 2008 teams for the best in school history, Auburn did some things well in 2014, but it wasn't enough to overcome a lack of offensive production the likes Auburn baseball hasn't seen in decades.

Hitting just .270, the worst team batting average for an Auburn team since 1984, and 15 home runs, the fewest since 1992, the Tigers scored a total of 235 runs in 56 games this season. That total is the fewest for an Auburn team since the 1975 team scored 231 runs in just 45 games.

"We won't change anything, we'll keep working, we'll stay positive and we'll continue to build our program. It won't change."--Coach Sunny Golloway

Entering the season Golloway talked about playing small ball to score runs. That meant putting the ball on the ground, bunting runners over, stealing bases and taking extra bases to get on the board. While it worked in some of he pre-conference games and early in SEC play, that style proved to be too much to handle for the 2014 Tigers against the best conference in baseball and instead of sticking with it Golloway said they tried to change the way they played.

It didn't work.

"We did," Golloway said of changing his offensive style. "I don't want to get into the why's because let's just say that we had to at that point. We had to just go with that. The things that we were wanting to do and trying to do we were unsuccessful doing them so whether that's not buying into them or not having the ability to execute it, we will never know, but it wasn't done.

"We left so many runners at third base when we could have (scored them) a Texas A&M that's really good at it or an Ole Miss, a safety squeeze and made sure we scored some runs.

"Again we were pitching and playing pretty good defense early in the year to allow us to do that and our pitching really started to break late in the year, and the bullpen, it was tough. We weren't sure who to bring out of the bullpen so at that point you wanted the ability to have a big inning like LSU did but we were unable to put that together."

Abandoning the style of play he preached to his players since fall practice proved be the wrong move as Auburn's offense went into a funk in the second-half of the SEC schedule. The beginning of the end came against Ole Miss on a Friday night. Leading 5-2 in the eighth inning, Auburn couldn't finish the Rebels and ended up losing 8-5 in extra innings.

Auburn averaged 3.7 runs (37) in the first 10 games of the conference schedule. In the 20 SEC games since that loss Auburn's offense scored a total of 49 runs, an average of just 2.45 per game. That includes games of eight and seven runs during that span. Take those two out of the equation and the average goes down to a miniscule 1.88 runs per contest against conference foes. You can't win getting that kind of production at the plate.

One of Auburn's most productive hitters this season, Damek Tomscha, finished second on the team with a .313 batting average and led the team with five home runs this season, but he had his share of problems at the plate just like the whole team. He noted that he believes everything points back to that Ole Miss series and added that the pressure just continued to mount from within and that's not how you play winning baseball.

"I think it's not finishing games late," the senior said. "There were multiple SEC games that we were up in the eighth inning and we found a way to lose probably at least five or six. That game at Ole Miss kind of changed that whole series. Personally I think we were a lot better than the teams we played, but it didn't show up in wins and losses.

"For the most part I felt like we played tight the whole year," he added. "I don't really know why. Baseball is supposed to be pretty fun and we put a little bit more pressure on us that maybe we should have and lived and died getting hits like that. You can't really play baseball like that. I think we needed to have a little bit more fun but it's a little too late."

Tomscha hits one of his five home runs.

Now it's time to evaluate what went right and what went wrong for Golloway in year number one. That starts with the offense and trying to figure out how to fix it. Having to replace Tomscha, Blake Austin, Ryan Tella and Dan Glevenyak, the coach said it starts with finding an offensive identity.

"We struggled scoring all year," Golloway said. "Part of that is buying into an offensive philosophy, part of it is not hitting the baseball. Part of that is not having hits with two strikes. A lot of it is just baseball, things happen and you scratch your head 'Why?'

"But a lot of it you control and the key to being a coach is to identify and help your players understand these are the things you do control--running hard, rounding the bag hard, looking for their miscues, taking advantage of them, those kind of things. And I don't know if we did a great job of that this year. Those are the things I'm responsible for. Training to put them in position to win. We were in a lot of ball games and we were in position to win a lot of series, but we just didn't finish it off. We didn't do it."

A believer in what he's doing, Golloway said the key to improvement is to try to keep moving forward and that starts on the recruiting trail. Looking to finish this year's class to join a freshman group that showed plenty of promise this season, he said that getting the chance to talk with his opponent this weekend reminded him of why he took the job and what the Tigers can accomplish down the road.

"I talked to Coach Paul Maineri for a long time," Golloway said. "His first year at LSU (29-26-1) was very similar. He had a lot of seniors, they didn't make the SEC Tournament and it was one of the toughest years he ever went through so, at the end of the game, that was one of the things he reminded me. ‘Hey, take care of yourself' because he knows how tough it can be, especially when you come from a winning program and you've done what you've been able to do.

"But that's why you're hired, because of what you've been able to do and what you're going to do. We won't change anything, we'll keep working, we'll stay positive and we'll continue to build our program. It won't change."

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