Debating between Rocky McCord and Cole Lipscomb for the opening game, Auburn’s Sunny Golloway decided that Lipscomb would get the ball for the Tigers as they look to get off to a good start in their first regional appearance since 2010.
With a record of 8-2 on the year and an earned run average of 2.38, Lipscomb has wins over Oklahoma State, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Georgia, Florida and Kentucky this season with the Tigers having a 9-5 record in games he has appeared in this season.
Because of his performance this season and the need to stay in the winner’s bracket, Golloway said in the end pitching coach Tom Holliday decided to go with his No. 1 guy.
“It was mostly just the clubs and how they aggressive they are and if they’re right-handed or left-handed oriented,” Golloway said of what went into the call to start Lipscomb. “Also, when you’re playing to win you always prepare for the best and the best would be facing Florida State if they happen to win or Mercer. Florida State leads the nation in walks and they’re very, very patient.
“But, we finally decided that you don’t want to put the cart ahead of the horse,” he added. “Let’s win the first one and Cole will give us the best opportunity to do that. Nothing against Rocky or anybody else, but he gives us the best opportunity. Our guys know that and when you’re facing a guy like their guy with 13 wins you better go after it right now.”
Lipscomb is just one part of Friday’s pitching showdown with redshirt junior Taylor Clarke on the mound for the Cougars after one of the best seasons in college baseball. Leading the country in wins, Clarke enters Friday with a record of 13-1 and an ERA of just 1.34 this season. When you throw him head-to-head with Lipscomb it has the makings of a fantastic duel in the Florida sunshine.
“It really is when you look at their records and the year both of them have had and what they’ve meant to their clubs,” Golloway said of the pitching matchup. “I think that’s why everybody is calling for this to be the toughest regional is because of those matchups. Everybody was already talking about Clarke and wondering about Lipscomb, now they got it. It will be a heck of a matchup and hopefully runs will be at a premium and we’ll be able to scratch a couple across.”
Golloway hopes to do more than scratch runs across with a lineup that could see some tinkering in the opener. The first thing may be to move second baseman Melvin Gray into the leadoff spot and drop the Anfernee Grier into the No. 2 spot in the order. With veteran Damon Haecker and leading RBI man Daniel Robert behind him and Jackson Burgreen in the No. 9 spot, Golloway said Grier should be able to get a few more fastballs. That could lead to more production at the top, something Auburn's second-year coach said he believes will happen.
“We’ve talked to a lot of professional baseball guys and it’s the same thing, it’s 91-92 (MPH) so coming from the SEC it’s not overwhelming to our lineup at all,” Golloway said. “I think he was able to overpower a lot of people in his league with his fastball. He mixes his changeup and has kind of a loopy breaking ball that doesn’t come up out of his hand as much as it comes straight out and just drops.
“I think since it’s not more of a breaking ball but more of a fastball then we’ll go with the club that we think matches up well and can hit the fastball,” he added. “That’s why we’re not overly concerned. We’re very respectful of who we’re playing, but we’re very confident by the same token that we’re going to be able to score some runs.”
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While McCord is waiting to possibly pitch game two, there is a chance that Keegan Thompson could get the call for the Tigers as a starter in the right situation. That’s something Golloway hinted was a possibility after the way the sophomore has thrown the ball since coming back from Hoover and the SEC Tournament a week ago.
“It was either going to be Cole or Rocky,” Golloway said of game one. “Keegan wants the ball. He threw the ball really well a couple of days ago and wants the ball of course.”
If Thompson were able to go it would be potentially a big lift for the Tigers. Throwing just four innings since pitching a complete game win over LSU on April 11, Thompson allowed four earned runs in just five innings in his last two outings after allowing just three runs in his previous three starts (26 innings).