Casey Mize, Auburn

Auburn Turns Heads Against Florida

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AUBURN, Ala. — Often times the bench players’ roles are to keep teams loose, act goofy during in-game interviews or come up with chatter that may or may not be suitable for your little league team’s ears. Other times, they make contributions to the in-game strategy. For Butch Thompson’s Auburn club, they find a way to have fun and also impact the game.

Thompson is thrilled with his team’s makeup after a series-clinching 2-1 victory over fifth-ranked Florida Saturday to clinch the SEC opening series for the Tigers.

Each Auburn player who spoke after the victory referenced the cohesion inside the locker room, something Thompson has been trying to develop since taking over as head coach after fall practice in 2015.

“I don’t have a prompter over there that says, ‘clap now or cheer now’,” Thompson said. “That is what makes it neat. It is their idea. They are engaged. From afar, what you see is a lot of jubilation, a lot of guys having fun. I am about that. That is what I want our guys to do.

“When you are inside the frame, what I am getting is information. I have (Florida slugger J.J.) Schwartz coming up the last time at bat and I’ve got Davis Daniel, tomorrow’s starting pitcher saying, ‘Coach, he has struck out on a slider these first three times’. It blows me away. That is information. It is not ‘cheer, cheer, cheer.’

“I got the runner at second base, ‘tell Damon (Haecker, the catcher) to set up a little later.’ That was (Friday starter) Keegan Thompson. Those two things happened today to help me give my sign to the catcher. I’ve got people stepping up with information, not just cheerleading. That is the powerful thing today. Those are two examples where I think we have a lot of good going on.”

Auburn appears to have a lot of good going on. Thompson has rebounded from a missed season with Tommy John surgery to lead the rotation. He is 4-0 with a 0.88 ERA. Casey Mize got the victory Saturday to move to 3-0 with a minuscule 0.25 ERA. With those two arms atop the rotation, Auburn looks much better than many predicted. Sure, the offense is a little inconsistent and they lack proven pitching depth, but when you add those two starters with heralded freshman third starter Davis Daniel, Thompson’s club has the appearance of a regional team. And frankly, with those arms leading the way, they would be a scary opponent in June.

Taking the series from a program like Florida was the shot in the arm the program needed after a lackluster 2016 season. Auburn is now 16-5 heading into Sunday and despite not playing a road game, has the look of a team that will surprise this spring. Thompson, though excited by the weekend, is still learning about his club.

“There is a lot we haven’t done yet,” Thompson said. “We haven’t been on the road yet for a game, much less an SEC game. There are things we have done to try to build routines but we have so many questions to answer. Adversity will visit every team in our league. That is life in the Southeastern Conference. How will we answer that?”


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