Auburn, Ala.--Coming off a disappointing midweek loss to Samford, the Auburn Tigers (13-4) hit the road this weekend to open SEC baseball play and it will be a difficult task for Sunny Golloway’s club with No. 6 and undefeated Texas A&M the opponent.
Staging a late-inning comeback against UT-Pan American on Wednesday, the Aggies are one of the hottest teams in the country and will present a formidable challenge for Auburn with a balanced offense, solid defense and one of the deepest pitching staffs in the country. Golloway said the trip comes at a good time for his team to see how far they have come and also to allow them to let it all hang out and see what happens.
“I think right now for us, Texas A&M being undefeated and nationally ranked and playing very well, the respect that I have for Rob Childers having been in the Big 12 and also competed at a regional there when I was at Oral Roberts, I think it’s probably a pretty perfect setting for us to go on the road and hunker down,” Golloway said. “It’s us against the undefeated world, so to speak.”
Auburn’s chances this weekend rest on the arms of a pitching staff that has been top heavy with production so far this season. Friday night starter Keegan Thompson (3-1, 3.42 ERA), Saturday starter Rocky McCord (1-0, 1.59), Sunday possible starters Cole Lipscomb (3-0, 2.18) and Trey Wingenter (1-0, 2.29) as well as closer Justin Camp 1-0, 0.00) combine to give the Tigers solid options against a Texas A&M offense that has feasted against weaker competition early in 2015.
Batting .304 as a team the Aggies are led by red-hot Nick Banks and Mitchell Nau, both hitting a crisp .444 this year in 17 games played. Getting production from up and down the order, the Aggies have 20 home runs with five from Taylor Logan the team high. With 90 walks as a team to put the on-base-percentage at .411, the Aggies will try to put pressure on Auburn from the outset, something the Tigers have to handle on the mound.
On the other side of things the Auburn offense will try to rebound following a terrible showing in Tuesday’s loss. Getting just five hits against Samford, the Tigers will need to get more production from the top of the order if they hope to get a series win.
Sophomore Anfernee Grier has done his part, hitting .424 with 16 runs scored in the leadoff spot, but Damon Haecker (.293), Jordan Ebert (.278) and Daniel Robert (.238) have to pick it up this weekend if Auburn's offense hopes to get the job done against one of the top pitching staffs in the country.
Auburn will catch a break this weekend with No. 1 starter A.J. Minter (2-0, 0.43) expected to miss the series with arm tenderness. That’s a big blow for the Aggies, but it doesn’t mean the cupboard is bare for Texas A&M as junior RHP Grayson Long (3-0, 2.38) is a very capable Friday night starter for the Aggies. With lefty Matt Kent (4-0, 2.33) and RHP Turner Larkins (1-0, 2.61) rounding out the rotation it will still be a talented group Auburn faces this weekend.
“They are pitching-strong and defense-strong, the emphasis is always put there,” Golloway said of Texas A&M. “They find ways, based on what players he has, to get runs across. Rob’s program is built on mental toughness and discipline. Those are two things we build our club on.
“It’s going to be a tough road,” he added. “We realize that and our kids realize that. At undefeated A&M, on the road, that’s exciting for us. That challenge is very exciting for us. He’s got that rotation set up. I expect them to be able to pitch the ball and defend very well.”
Game times for the weekend series are 6:35 p.m. CDT on Friday, 4 p.m. Saturday (SEC Network) and 1:05 p.m. on Sunday.