The 19th ranked Auburn baseball team will turn their attention to a home series against the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) and then a single game against South Alabama before kicking off a grueling conference schedule against Tennessee on March 15.
Standing at 11-2, the Tigers have managed well since losing last year’s ace pitcher Casey Mize, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 MLB draft. With a mix of veterans and young talent, the Tigers look to position themselves in the upper-echelon of the best conference in college baseball.
After losing their second game of the season to UCF on Feb. 24., the Tigers have rattled off four straight wins including a three-game sweep against Cincinnati that saw Auburn outscore the Bearcats 19-5.
At the plate, Auburn has been led by junior first baseman Rankin Woley, sophomore third baseman Edouard Julien, sophomore right fielder Steven Williams and true freshman center fielder Kason Howell.
Woley, in particular, has impressed through the team’s first 11 games. A junior college transfer from Chattahoochee Valley, Rankin is hitting an impressive .378 to go along with 13 RBIs — both of which rank in the top five in the SEC.
After breaking Frank Thomas’ freshman RBI record and leading the conference in the same stat last season, 2018 Freshman All-American Edouard Julien came into 2019 with a reputation as one of the best power hitters in the SEC. Julien has avoided a sophomore slump so far as he has already mashed four home runs — good for third in the conference.
From the bullpen, the Tigers are led by sophomore dynamic duo Tanner Burns and Jack Owen, giving Auburn one of best young pitching rotations in the nation.
Burns’ 29 strikeouts rank fourth in the NCAA among underclassmen, with his spectacular 0.92 ERA dwarfed only by Owen, who is one of two pitchers in the SEC yet to give up an earned run.
The sophomore duo, along with junior Elliot Anderson, have combined for 69 strikeouts in only 48.3 innings pitched.
While the Auburn bullpen did lose its ace from last year, head coach Butch Thompson believes the depth of this year’s team is elite.
“I feel like we have more depth (than last year). And we didn’t even get to all of our depth. That’s pretty amazing,” Thompson said after the Tigers’ two-win double-header against Cincinnati on Saturday. “We didn’t throw anybody twice and we didn’t get everybody we want to get into the ball game. … It can be a work in progress if it has to be, but I think we’re going to like the depth at the end of the day.”
The Tigers showcased some elite pitching in the Cincinnati series — a main component to their three-game sweep.
In game one, Burns tied an Auburn record for strikeouts with 15, striking out two or more batters in six innings on the way to a 5-0 shutout victory. Burns moved to 2-0 on the season after pitching all nine innings and only allowing two hits and zero batters walked.
This performance led to Burns being named SEC Pitcher of the Week — the first of his career.
In game two, it was Owen’s turn to dominate on the mound. The California native pitched seven scoreless innings and struck out a career-high 10 batters to lead Auburn to yet another 5-0 victory.
After struggling as a freshman in 2018, Owen shined in his first start of the season.
“Last year I kind of pitched to not give up runs instead of get guys out, kind of on my heels instead of on the attack,” he said. “This year, it’s been ‘go after guys and give them your best stuff,’ it’s usually good enough. It’s been a game-changer for me.”
Offensively, the Tigers’ offense in the series was spearheaded by both Williams and Woley, who, in three games played, hit a combined 13-25 at the plate (.520). Woley hit six of his 13 RBIs this season against the Bearcats and three of his four hits in Saturday’s doubleheader were extra-base hits.
Williams has continued his hot streak to start the season as the Albany, Georgia native has registered multiple-hits in every game of the team’s four-game win streak.
Auburn will look to extend its win streak when they host UTSA for their final non-conference series of the season, starting with a 6 p.m. showdown on Friday at Plainsman Park. The first pitch of Saturday’s matchup is set for 2 p.m., while Sunday’s game is slated to start at 1 p.m.