Auburn, Ala.--Heading into another SEC baseball series this weekend against rival Alabama, the No. 4 ranked Auburn Tigers (32-14, 14-7) are coming in to Friday's game after picking up two big wins over Mississippi State on the road last weekend in Starkville.
Much of the year it has been Keegan Thompson and Casey Mize on the mound leading the way for the Tigers, but recently it has been a different cast of characters for Coach Butch Thompson’s team with players such as Will Holland, Jeremy Johnson and Elliott Anderson coming up big for Auburn.
"Time and time again, in all honesty, I have been impressed by our whole roster," the second-year coach said. "Somebody has contributed at some point and time and there have been different names, different guys that have had special moments. I think when you step outside the framework and just look at it, this team has done as good of a job as any team I have been a part of of, this is a me proposition instead of a me proposition.
"For a group of young men to not put themselves ahead is hard because these guys have great visions and futures. This team has done an unbelievable job of playing for Auburn, playing for themselves, and trying to define team baseball as good as I have ever seen."
Thrown into a starting role for the Tigers with shortstop Luke Jarvis bothered by back spasms, Holland had a terrific defensive series with several highlight-reel plays in the middle of Auburn’s defense.
Shortstop Will Holland's defense was good enough that the Tigers could look at Luke Jarvis at second base with a possible move of Jay Estes back to the outfield
Also thrown into a starting role in the outfield with Daniel Robert bothered by a sore arm and Bo Decker still nursing an injured ankle, Johnson put together a solid weekend at the plate going 4-10 with a pair of RBI. Included in that was a three-hit game on Saturday to help the Tigers clinch the series vs. the Bulldogs.
“It was really fun,” Johnson said. “Going into the series I only had three SEC at-bats. Our coaches always preach ‘be ready to play, be ready to play at any moment.’ I always give 100 percent in practice because those are usually my only times to get reps to be ready for a situation like that.”
Struggling for much of the early part of the season and without an appearance since March 15 before facing four batters against Troy on the Tuesday prior to the Mississippi State series, Anderson had one of the key bullpen outings of the year for the Tigers on Saturday in Starkville. Getting a ground ball in a key situation, the freshman left-hander went two more innings to help the Tigers earn a road win and wrap up a series victory to pull into a tie for first place in the SEC.
“I was just trying to fill up the strike zone,” Anderson said of his outing. “Coach Thompson has always said that good things happen when you throw strikes. I was just trying to throw it in the zone and see what the defense can do with it.”
With Andrew Mitchell the only lefty the Tigers used for much of the season, Thompson has been hoping to have a second option step up and he said he may have found that guy in Anderson.
“It’s just developing depth,” Thompson said. “We’ve talked about it for three weeks. Your offense the last two weekends has stepped up for you. Then you get the chip-in from the bullpen. That’s powerful and positive and we’ve been calling for it and hopefully not in a negative way.
“It’s been like if we’re going to hang in here in the best league in America these two phases have to step up and rival the starting pitching and the defense. I think the last two SEC series they are battling hard to let their presence be known.”
Now with Alabama coming to town for a three-game series this weekend the Tigers may again have to call on somebody out of the ordinary to make a play. “Our coaches always tell us to be ready to play so I don’t think we have doubts about whoever we put on the mound or on the field,” Johnson said. “We’re all ready to play.”