Auburn, Ala.--Even before the sweep of No. 5 Florida over the weekend the Auburn Tigers knew there was something a little different about this team.
A journey that started in the fall with a strenuous workout regimen and team meetings designed to bring the guys closer as a team, Coach Butch Thompson began to see his players become more about the group than about the individual.
One of the keys to that has been the way senior Cole Lipscomb has handled his role coming out of the bullpen this season. Wanting him to maximize his talent and give the Tigers the best chance to win, Thompson moved Lipscomb in the fall and they haven’t looked back.
Thompson said for him the message was a simple one for Lipscomb when he first approached him about the change. “Will you help me win?,” the coach asked. “Do you want to be part of something bigger than yourself and help us win? You’re capable and talented enough and have had success at this level. Can you serve us in this capacity?
“I’m glad we started this journey in September," Thompson said. "He hadn’t started any practice, any fall game, anything we’ve done. We started this in September, which has given Cole time to find acceptance and time to work through some of these layers.
“We need him. That’s how talented and skilled I believe he is. You see probably a few more breaking balls, which makes me like having him in the bullpen even more instead of having him in a starter’s role. I think we’re featuring his identity more, allowing him to be himself even more and putting him in a shorter frame.”
So far so good for the move and for the Tigers. With a record of 17-5 overall following the sweep of Florida, Lipscomb has done his part to help out with that as well. Currently 3-0 with three saves and a 2.25 ERA, Lipscomb noted that he is part of what has been a different group of Tigers this season because now everything is built around the team.
“I think it’s just selflessness within our team,” Lipscomb said. “Obviously, we have a bunch of guys that are going to get drafted and a bunch of guys that have Major League talent, but I think we want to win more than we want to be there as a person or get drafted.
“The character of this team is unreal," he added. "We love each other and have a very tight locker room. I think it’s just wanting to win for the guy next to us. We want to be successful this year and make a postseason run. That’s the most important thing to us.”
That team-first mentality has gone through all aspects of the program and team this season. Thompson said that it has shown time and time again in the dugout this year with players helping out their teammates and making suggestions throughout games.
That’s a quality he said shows up in good situations, where he feels like his team is right now.
“On good teams and teams that are in a good place,” Thompson said of when he’s noticed similar communication that this year’s team is having now. “You can get tripped up even in the course of a year, but our guys are just in a good place right now and I think everybody would recognize that and say that.
“That’s our job is to stay locked in. It’s never perfect, but you just want to avoid the big miss. You want to avoid getting lost. We’re not perfect, but we’ve got a lot of things working good. We know where we’re going for right now. Two weeks ago we were not there. It’s the resiliency of playing the game and being able to come back and hang together."
Thompson has been around SEC baseball long enough to know that struggles are coming when you play 30 games against the best competition in the country. Building for the rough stretches and being able to handle them is one of the ultimate keys for success for a team and that means you enjoy the good times when they come your way.
For Thompson one of those singular moments happened on Sunday when he watched his team celebrate a sweep of Florida.
“Those are the little moments I take that you don’t need a penny for,” Thompson said. “Just to see that look on their face, if only for a moment. Hopefully, we’ve got some good things coming in the future, but nobody can take that moment from me, seeing those guys run on the field there. And I do cherish that today, that was the highlight of the weekend to see them completely finish the task."