Bryant Steps Up For Baseball Tigers

Justin Bryant went from relief pitcher to shortstop over the weekend and responded well for the Auburn Tigers.

Auburn, Ala.--An impressive player as both a pitcher and shortstop at Oneonta High School, Justin Bryant continued that play on the junior college level when he earned All-American honors in 2009 at Itawamba (Miss.) Community College after hitting .455 with 21 doubles, 13 home runs, and driving in 76 runs.

However it was his ability on the mound that attracted the Auburn coaches and that was his initial role with the Tigers when he arrived in the fall. Despite continuing to hit and also work some at second base and first base, Bryant figured to be a reliever for the Auburn Tigers until the injury bug bit the Tigers and opened the door for Bryant to make a move.

A Freshman All-American last season, Casey McElroy was expected to be Auburn's opening day shortstop after showing no signs of slowing down coming off of his 2009 season. Things changed in a hurry though last week as McElroy was hit by a pitch and suffered a fractured finger on his throwing hand.

That meant Auburn was searching for a shortstop without much time to hold auditions. Freshman walk-on Jordan Neese got the start on Friday, but struggled some defensively. Deciding to give Bryant a look, coach John Pawlowski said the 5-10, 190-pounder responded.

"JB is a tough, hard-nosed kid," Pawlowski said. "He's just blue collar. He's one of the kids that just comes ready to play every day. He's first in the cage. We liked him because he's got a very good breaking ball. We were trying to work on his arm and keep him off shortstop and slide him to first base, but in this situation he's one of our toughest kids and we ran him out there."

That was fine with Bryant. A shortstop his entire life, Bryant said it didn't take him long to get comfortable with his new role albeit in a different atmosphere at Plainsman Park.

"All this fall I was at second base and first base and on the mound a little bit," Bryant said. "Getting to play shortstop like I did in junior college is just my comfort zone. That's where I like to be.

"I played there in junior college, but nothing this week until our practice on Thursday," he added. "I took some ground balls then but that's it."

Starting the final two games of the series, Bryant finished with three hits in nine at-bats and drove in two runs. He also had nine fielding chances without making an error. With McElroy possibly expected back for this weekend's Auburn Classic, Bryant said his focus right now is just to play as well as possible until McElroy returns.

"Getting to play shortstop for the Auburn Tigers has always been my dream," Bryant said. "It's kind of hard trying to live up to Casey McElroy and the job he did last year. I'm just trying to fill the hole until he gets back and maybe I won't mess up too bad for him."

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