Facing a Razorbacks’ team that won a series against Ole Miss after being swept at Vanderbilt and winning just once against LSU, Coach Sunny Golloway said this is another important series for his team as it continues to play towards the goal of making the postseason.
“I think our guys are really looking forward to playing at home,” the coach said. “I think we’re playing pretty consistent right now. Dave (Van Horn) is going to come in there and his Razorbacks are 3-6 in the league just like we are. I think it’s a real crucial weekend from that standpoint for both Arkansas and Auburn.
“Every weekend is big, but the significance is that both teams are 3-6 and Mississippi State is 3-6. We’re all kind of knotted right there together. We just got done playing Mississippi State and now we’re playing Arkansas. We don’t want to fall behind, we want to push forward and I’m sure they do, too.”
Pushing forward for Auburn means continuing the recipe for success it has used recently, which is improved pitching and defense. While the offense has gotten some runs in spurts it has been solid pitching and a defense that hasn’t made an error in 43 1/3 consecutive innings that has been the catalyst for the Tigers.
A big part of that has been the emergence of redshirt sophomore Cole Lipscomb on the mound for the Tigers. Starting the year in the bullpen, Lipscomb had a superb first SEC start last weekend in a victory at Mississippi State when he didn’t allow a run in seven innings against the Bulldogs. Now ready for his second Friday night start in a row, Lipscomb said for him it’s just all about enjoying the ride.
“It was fun,” Lipscomb said of his win vs. the Bulldogs. “It took me an inning or two to settle in, my first pitch was high the first innings, but once we got those runs I settled in nicely and our defense played great.
“It’s fun,” he added about getting the ball on Friday night. “You know you’re going to get the other team’s best. You know you’re going to get their best effort being on a Friday night. It’s high intensity with the crowd and everything. It’s fun to have that challenge.”
Currently 4-0 with a 1.71 ERA in seven appearances this season, Lipscomb has allowed just 23 hits in 31 1/3 innings pitched this season and has struck out 41. He’ll get the call for the Tigers against Arkansas on Friday night with sophomore Keegan Thompson going on Saturday. Auburn’s ace, Thompson is 5-2 with a 3.38 ERA, but is coming off eight innings of shutout ball in Starkville last weekend.
Going into the weekend without a Sunday starter announced, Auburn could go with Dalton Rentz, Trey Wingenter or even Justin Camp in the final game of the series depending on how the first two games go. Golloway said with Lipscomb and Thompson up first the Tigers will take their chances with those two and see what happens.
“We all know Keegan, but what really has happened is the way we’ve stepped up with Cole on Friday,” Golloway said. “It’s something that Coach (Tom) Holliday and I kind of wanted to look at, but we wanted to wait for the right timing. We were throwing Keegan in some mid-week starting out, which was duly noted.
“Then we moved him straight into Friday because he had a full week off,” he said of his move to start SEC play at Texas A&M. “Then the first chance we had to flip that and look at Cole worked really well last week. I’ll compare him to what Dillon Ortman did for us last year. That was big for us because it gave us a chance. With Cole doing that on Friday, our guys seem to play more comfortable and confident on Friday knowing you’ve kind of got Keegan to fall back on if things don’t go right on Friday.”
Arkansas counters with a talented pitching staff to go up against an Auburn offense hitting .280 as a team this season with 75 extra-base hits, including 12 home runs. The Tigers drop to a .233 batting average in SEC play, however, with just 34 runs scored in nine games. Leading the way continues to be sophomore sensation Anfernee Grier as his .381 average is far and away the best on the team ahead of Cody Nulph’s .301 average. In league play Grier is also tops on the team with a .333 mark.
Batting .282 on the season in 10 starts, junior college transfer Melvin Gray has played solid at second base since being inserted into the everyday lineup for the Tigers. That move allowed them to move Damon Haecker to third base where he shares time with Kyler Deese. Haecker has also seen time in left field as well, something Golloway said could continue moving forward this season.
Game times for the weekend series against the Razorbacks are set for 6 p.m. CDT on both Friday and Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday. Saturday’s game will be televised by ESPNU.