Auburn, Ala.--One of the keys to Auburn’s fast start this season was a team that had formed a tight bond throughout fall practice and into the spring because of team-building exercises such as a trip to Fort Benning to work out with Army Rangers and team meetings where players got to know each other better.
Following seven consecutive losses, Coach Butch Thompson’s club stands on the crossroads of a baseball season that has taken a turn for the worse. In first place in the Southeastern Conference just two weeks ago, Auburn is now just one game over .500 (14-13) in the league as Ole Miss comes to Plainsman Park for a three-game series.
Without classes to worry about and able to just focus on baseball, Thompson’s Tigers have gone back to the basics this week and that has meant extra practices and more bonding to try to find the chemistry that was so important to the Tigers’ success for so long this season.
“What it allowed us to do is get on the field for a shorter period of time but with maybe more intensity,” Thompson said. “We felt like after the last two weeks that we needed to refocus on fundamentals and get back after it and the team spend a lot of time together. We've had shorter practices, probably, by doing it two a day, but the intensity has been up and it's allowed us to focus on one thing at a time.
“If we've come out and really focused on our swings in the morning, then we can come out and just focus on our defense in the afternoon. We've done some water melon cutting and spent some time together after practice.
“I think it's been good for us. I think it's allowed us to hit a reset button and refocus and get ready and really head into this last SEC weekend with no regrets knowing that we've gotten back together and tried to sharpen our axe. We've had a sharp axe before and done some really neat things for a majority of the season so if our axe blade got a little bit dull, this gave us three days to go sharpen your axe.”
A leader for the Tigers, junior pitcher Keegan Thompson said the mindset started immediately when the team returned from being swept at LSU last weekend.
“He (Coach Thompson) said when we got off the bus on Saturday night that we're going to kind of go back to where we started in the fall,” Keegan Thompson said. “We've kind of had that same mindset and it's been a kind of a fun atmosphere this week so far.”
A team that has struggled in every phase of the game the last two weekends, Auburn is a team in need of something good to happen. Whether that’s a strong performance on the mound, clutch hitting, or playing solid defense, Keegan Thompson said they’ve maintained the positive attitude throughout.
“We have struggled the last few weeks but nobody has let that get to them,” Auburn’s Thursday night starter said. “Everybody has come in this week with a positive attitude and bringing a lot of energy to the field for our practices the last couple of days. We're going into it head on.”
Tiger Ticket Extra: Auburn’s lineup could be closer to full strength this weekend with Daniel Robert expected to be back in right field and shortstop Luke Jarvis a game-time decision based on how his back is doing in pregame warmups. Coach Butch Thompson said the junior has felt better this week, which is a good sign heading into Thursday night.
Luke Jarvis has been a key player for the Tigers this season.
Another player who could see action this week, especially on Thursday, is senior outfielder Sam Gillikin. With Ole Miss throwing a right-hander in the series opener, there’s a good chance that Gillikin could be in left field for the Tigers after having several impressive weeks of practice.
Game times for the series are scheduled for 6 p.m. CDT on both Thursday and Friday and 1 p.m. on Saturday. All games can be seen online at SEC Network+.