No. 8 Auburn Baseball (4-0) kicked off its season in style with a four-game series sweep against the University of Illinois-Chicago at Plainsman Park last weekend.
The Tigers came out white hot on both sides of the plate, outscoring the Flames 44-7. Everyone was looking for Auburn to come out utilizing its prodigious pitchers, but that was not all that was on display. The Tigers proved that they can swing the bat with the best of them and that their roster is miles deep.
Auburn’s pitching corps came out throwing heat. The Tigers’ four starters — Tanner Burns, Jack Owen, Richard Fitts and Bailey Horn — went 4-0 and held the Flames by posting a 1.89 ERA for the weekend. The starters struck out 29 batters in 19 innings. Owen, Fitts and Horn combined to hold UIC scoreless for the final 9.2 innings pitched by starters.
But it was relief man Cody Greenhill that was last weekend’s pitching superstar. Greenhill came in at the start of the fifth inning in the opening game against UIC. The Tigers were up 5-3 when Greenhill checked in and rendered the Flames’ batters useless. He recorded a career-high six strikeouts, four of which came from the first batters he faced. The Tigers couldn’t do much with the bat in their hand after that, so it was up to Greenhill to get the job done. He went a career-high four innings without allowing a hit and closed the game out for the Tigers’ 5-3 opening-night victory. This netted Greenhill his first save of the season and 18th of his Auburn career.
With the Flames offense neutralized, the Tigers focused on getting an offensive spark started. Little did they know this spark would erupt into a wildfire of scoring. The Tigers' 44 runs matched their most in a series since their 2018 matchup against the University of Alabama. The Tigers' 11-run fourth inning in the series finale marked the second time in the last seven games they’ve scored 11 or more runs in an inning.
The driving force behind this was Auburn’s triple threat of Judd Ward, Ryan Bliss and Rankin Woley. Ward, the leadoff man, went 6-17 on hitting and earned a career-high four hits and four runs in the second game of the series. This game especially stood out when Ward hit for the cycle. He was the first Auburn player to do this since Clete Thomas in 2005. Ward finished the weekend with six runs and two runs batted in.
Bliss, second in the batting order, led the team with seven runs and tied the team lead with six RBIs on the series. He went 7-17 batting but was 2-4 with two doubles in the season-opener. In game two, Bliss matched his career high with four RBIs.
Woley went 8-15, recording a hit in all four games. He scored four runs and four RBIs on the weekend. He went 4-4 with two runs, two doubles and one RBI, matching his career high for hits and doubles in game one of Saturday’s doubleheader. In game three, he went 2-4 with a double and an RBI and netted his fourth double of the weekend in game four.
The Tigers rounded out their performance by proving that they have more talent than just the starting lineup; 14 newcomers made their first appearance at Plainsman Park. This included eight skill positions and six pitchers. Out of the eight position players, six recorded at least one hit and drove in a run.
The Tigers played a one-off game against Oakland University after print deadline on Wednesday night before their weekend series against the University of Central Florida.
UCF is a different animal entirely. The Golden Knights are also undefeated following their four-game sweep over Siena College. They appear to be more similar to Auburn in offensive capabilities, outscoring the Saints 32-8.
The Golden Knights were led by Rick Romano and Ben McCabe, who both batted .400 for the opening weekend, knocking in a combined three runs. UCF also tallied five homeruns on the weekend, each hit by a different player.
Speedster Gephry Pena is a player to keep an eye on if he reaches first base. The sophomore outfielder stole four bases in four attempts.
Pitcher Trevor Holloway could be Auburn’s main problem, though. The redshirt junior totaled for nine strikeouts, while allowing three hits in the Golden Knights’ 11-4 victory over Siena.
The Tigers have met and exceeded season opening expectations; all that’s left to find out is how they continue to handle opponents.
Auburn will have three matchups against UCF this weekend, starting Friday at 6 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m.