BUTCH THOMPSON (PHOTO BY JASON CALDWELL)

Jason Caldwell's Monday Morning QB Column: A Player To Watch On A-Day, Big Weekends For Auburn Baseball, Softball

Looking at Auburn football, baseball and softball in this edition of Jason Caldwell's Monday Morning Quarterback column.

It’s A-Day Time

Last year around this time we told you about walk-on running back C.J. Tolbert as a guy to keep an eye on in the Auburn A-Day game and while he didn’t win MVP honors he probably should have. This time around Tolbert has garnered much more attention in spring practice and through two scrimmages he may be the guy to beat for the third running back spot.

Physical and able to consistently get to the second level of the defense, Tolbert’s play this spring hasn’t surprised Coach Tim Horton, who thought a lot of Tolbert’s play following last spring. Had the former Dadeville High School quarterback been eligible last season after transferring from Harding (Ark.) University there is a good chance he would have been on the field against Georgia and given the Tigers a much better shot of beating the Bulldogs.

Another under-the-radar guy to watch on Saturday is wide receiver Will Hastings. Even though he made a few plays last season, the former kicker wasn’t thought to be a serious contender for major playing time before the spring started,but that has changed with a strong few weeks of practice. A top target for quarterback Jarrett Stidham because of his route running and quickness off the line of scrimmage, Hastings has become a threat in the middle of the field and that’s something that was missing a season ago.

 

Auburn Baseball Keeps Rolling

When Butch Thompson was hired one of the things he talked about was dominating the routine play. With just a few exceptions that is what the Tigers have done through 30 games this season, winning 23 and finding themselves tied for the SEC lead after three weeks of conference play.

One of the keys so far has been a pitching staff that has not beaten itself. That means limiting free passes. In 268 innings pitched Auburn has struck out 236 batters while walking only 86.

Another key has been defense. It’s not just a fielding percentage of .974, which would match the best mark for an Auburn team in the last decade, but it’s the amount of big plays this team is making seemingly every game.

It’s one thing to field your position well because you’re not getting to many balls, but this defense is taking away a base hit or two a game and those are adding up.

There is no stat more important right now than Auburn's 8-2 record in one-run games. That’s a far cry from going 1-11 in that situation a year ago and a big reason why this team is putting itself in good position early in SEC play.

Thompson likes to point out, and he’s right, that Auburn will face some tough times down the road. That’s just life in the SEC. Only one team in the last three years has lost fewer than 10 games in league play, meaning there are still plenty of valleys to come for this team.

The good news is the Tigers have put themselves in a great position for postseason play already. With seven wins and seven league series remaining, just avoiding being swept gives you a minimum of 14 league wins. There is no question the goal is set much higher than that for this team, but you have got to like your chances of winning at least one with Keegan Thompson and Casey Mize going every weekend.

 

Softball Tigers Hitting Their Stride

Sweeping the Georgia Bulldogs on the road for the first time in school history, Coach Clint Myers and the Auburn softball Tigers find themselves 31-5 overall and 6-3 in SEC play despite the fact that All-American Kasey Cooper continues to struggle at the plate.

Hitting just .265 with six home runs and 30 RBI, Cooper has gone hitless in her last 12 at-bats.

That is what makes this season even more impressive to this point. Without Cooper even close to her usual self and with Tannon Snow sitting out this season with an undisclosed illness, Auburn’s offense has been picked up by a red-hot Carlee Wallace and the power outburst of Kendall Veach. Batting .382, Wallace has six home runs and 13 doubles with an on-base percentage of .508.

Hitting .282, Veach leads the team with 10 home runs and is tied with Wallace for the team lead in RBI with 34. With her production in the middle of the order and Wallace up front, if Cooper can find her form this team will once again be in the hunt for a postseason run.

The one area that has to be a concern right now for Myers is the struggles on defense in SEC play. In just nine games Auburn already has 15 errors and is fielding at just .947. Last season the Tigers made just 22 errors in 23 SEC games.


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