“Our attitude,” Golloway said of what has impressed him so far. “Our attitude and our effort. Our effort has been outstanding. Not every one of our practices has been great. Our guys have heard about when we feel like we have fallen short. Our expectations about what we want to do and how we want to do it.
“In defense of them, they are always going to be gauged against teams that have been to Omaha and teams that have been to Super Regionals. Your attitude and your effort has to be consistent throughout. Our attitude has been great this year. I could not be more proud of where they are at. It is a really special group of young men, it really is. Their effort has got to be consistent, it has got to be there every day.”
For Auburn the key to the season will likely hinge on the development of the pitching staff under first-year coach Tom Holliday. Returning freshman All-American Keegan Thompson is a good start. Going 5-3 in 14 appearances with an ERA of just 2.01, Thompson led the team with 73 strikeouts and will get the opening day start on Friday against Binghamton.Getting the call the next two days will be junior Trey Wingenter (1-1, 3.33 ERA) and senior Rocky McCord (0-0, 3.38). Pitching just two and two/thirds total innings last season in five appearances, McCord turned down a chance to play pro baseball for a shot to work his way into the starting rotation. That time is now.
“I couldn’t be more proud of how he’s come back,” Golloway said of McCord. “When a young man turns down the draft to come back for his senior year, that’s pretty special. I think that says a lot for where he thinks we’re going and what can be done for his development here, but he’s thrown the ball really well for us.”
With Justin Camp stepping into the closer role and returners such as Cole Lipscomb, Robbie Clements, Jacob Milliman and Kevin Davis available if needed along with junior college newcomers Dalton Rentz, Will Thompson and Izaac Yarbrough, depth is the key for the pitching staff heading into the new season.
Returning last season’s leading hitter Jordan Ebert (.353) in the outfield along with speedy sophomore Anfernee Grier and talented junior Sam Gillikin, Auburn has experience and playmakers to roam Plainsman Park. Making the move from left field to right field, Ebert looks comfortable in his new spot with Grier moving to center field for the first time. Those three are expected to be the starters with junior college transfer Bo Decker and sophomore J.J. Shaffer also in the mix for playing time.
“We like the guys coming back,” Golloway said of the outfield. “We feel the maturity level, again. Even when you think about Jordan Ebert leading the conference, there is something different about him. Watching him and how he is going about his business, but we have him moved to right field. He seems to play better of there.
"Anfernee does not like walls. He does not mind there being players there, he just wants to run. With the ability to run, he has looked really free. He can really go get a ball.
'Sam Gillikin and Bo Decker can fill that spot in left field. Sam is a returning guy, he just has to put it all together and keep developing. It is a veteran outfield, they play to their ability and it is going to be a strong set for us no doubt.”
Familiar names are the story in the outfield, but that’s not the case along the infield for the Tigers as junior college transfers Cody Nulph and Alex Polston are expected to hold down the left side while Melvin Gray battles sophomore Damon Haecker for playing time at second base. At first base sophomore Daniel Robert is back and will be in the mix for playing time along with transfer Kyler Deese. Deese is also in the mix to see action behind starter Blake Logan at catcher.
With a tough conference schedule and non-conference games against Georgia Tech, South Alabama, Samford and Alabama State, the Tigers need to take advantage of winnable games early in the year to build confidence. Golloway said that is the plan and heading into the year he feels good about where his team is as a group.
“This is a special group,” Golloway said. “If I were to use all 25 years, this is really a special group. They are a close-knit bunch. They will do what you ask them. Sometimes you have to repeat it to get it right, but they will sure give you effort to do it the first time. We are not where we want to be, but we are not where we used to be.”
Game times for the weekend series against Binghamton are set for 3 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and noon on Sunday.
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