Dominating the final two games vs. the Gamecocks, the Tigers took moved closer to their goal of getting back into the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years.
Ranked 23rd by D1Baseball and 24th by Baseball America after winning 11 of its last 13 games, Auburn has jumped to No. 14 in the country in the official NCAA RPI released on Monday. Those numbers should make the Tigers a lock with two more SEC wins in the last two weekends against Alabama and Florida, but the goal isn't just to get there and Coach Sunny Golloway said he doesn‘t want his team to focus on at the moment.
“I told the guys that sometimes when you hear that stuff it’s a little bit restraining because it’s almost a limitation we’ve had in the past with our program,” Golloway said. “I don’t want there to be any limitations on this program. I want us to think we can go 56-0 and host a regional and super regional and go undefeated going to Omaha and beat everybody by 10 runs.
“Let’s don’t have any limitations and think outside the box, don’t let anybody put us in a box," the coach added. "I told them that even if they find themselves ranked, don’t let that be a limitation. It’s just somebody’s opinion and nobody’s opinion matters except those guys on the yard playing and the guys in the dugout supporting them and the coaches that are leading them.”
Auburn continues to have limitations on offense as the Tigers scored just 10 runs in the three-game series, but once again the pitching delivered in a big way as the staff continues to put up solid outing after solid outing. On Sunday that pitching performance came from Dalton Rentz as the starter and relievers Justin Camp and Trey Wingenter.
Limiting South Carolina to just three hits is something that could be expected from Camp and Wingenter, but for Rentz it has been a coming of age since ace Keegan Thompson has missed his last two starts with a sore elbow. Allowing just two hits in four and two/thirds innings, the junior college transfer is becoming a steadying influence in his role for the Tigers said Camp.
“He’s just filling that role,” Camp said of Rentz. “Basically, he got thrown in and they said ‘Hey, you’ve got to start now.’ He didn’t really have a choice and he is filling it great. He’s doing everything we could ask for and getting us deep enough into the games that we don’t have to use a lot of guys out of the pen. He’s putting up zeros and that’s all you can ask of him.”
Adding that it’s fun to be part of a team that continues to grind until it finds a way to win, Camp said the Tigers will now turn their attention to the next series against rival Alabama. Fighting for its SEC Tournament life, Alabama will have plenty of incentive to come in and play well this weekend at Plainsman Park, but so will the Tigers.
With a trip to the postseason within its grasp, Auburn likely needs a few wins to secure a spot in an NCAA regional and for that to come this weekend would be huge. First the Tigers will concentrate on academics with final exams meaning break from midweek games. Practicing on Tuesday and Thursday only before playing the Tide on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Golloway said he is looking forward to another important week in the life of the Auburn program.
“It will give us a chance as coaches to get ready for next weekend, both looking at film and also get on the road a little bit recruiting, which is what we need to do,” Auburn's second-year head coach said. “It’s a busy week for everybody, just not necessarily on the field so much.
"I think having two days off is going to be good for our legs, too. We need the rest a little bit. I know the Auburn family and they are going to show up in droves for the weekend so it’s going to be a lot of fun.”