The good news for the Auburn baseball Tigers as they head into a new season is that this might be the most talented and deepest team Butch Thompson has fielded as he begins his seventh season as the program’s head coach.
The bad news for the Tigers, who have ambitions of winning the Southeastern Conference and making a return trip to the College World Series where they finished their previous full season (2019), is that everybody else in the SEC is loaded with talent as well.
With the pandemic canceling the 2020 season and prompting Major League Baseball to have a much shortened draft last June without minor league seasons to develop their draft picks, most of the SEC’s top players have stuck around for a do-over year and a lot of top 2020 high school seniors and Juco stars signed with college teams instead of going pro. Being good enough to earn a starting spot on any SEC team is more challenging than usual, and it is normally not easy to do in what is by far college baseball’s top league.
The Tigers will begin their season on Friday with a three-game home series vs. Presbyterian. The following Friday the team will be in Texas for the Round Rock event where they will play challenging contests vs. Oklahoma, Baylor and Texas A&M. A month after playing at Round Rock the Tigers will begin their league schedule with a three-game series at Ole Miss to open what could be an SEC season worth closely following for Auburn fans if their team is up to the challenge.
Auburn has a pair of preseason All-Americans on the left side of the infield with senior Rankin Woley at third base and junior Ryan Bliss at shortstop. There are proven players at other positions and promising newcomers trying to earn playing time.
The potential is high to field a deep and well-rounded pitching staff with right-handers, lefties, proven starters, quality middle relievers and multiple candidates to be closers in the bullpen.
From the notebook:
• Auburn’s football team received good news 48 hours after national signing day from Jarquez Hunter. In desperate need of a running back in the 2021 class, Coach Bryan Harsin’s staff added the 5-10, 190-pounder from Neshoba Central High in Philadelphia, Miss. He averaged close to 2,000 rushing yards per season for three years.
• The Auburn women’s basketball team is in danger of not winning an SEC game. After being dominated at home by Alabama, a team on a four-game losing streak, the Tigers are now 0-12 in the league and 5-15 overall. The Tigers have three games left in the regular season, all vs. opponents with winning records.
Coach Terri Williams-Flournoy’s Tigers will have back-to-back losing seasons for just the second time in Auburn history. The first time it happened came during the 1977-78 and 1978-79 seasons, which was prior to women’s basketball competition being played as an SEC or NCAA administered sport.
• Newcomer Maddie Penta arrived with high expectations and won the initial SEC Softball Freshman of the Week Award with a no-hitter in her debut. She also won another game a day later and did not give up an earned run in 12 innings pitched.
Auburn’s other freshman pitcher, lefty Shelby Lowe, struck out 11 batters in 5 1/3 innings in her debut to earn the first of what will likely be many collegiate victories for her and Penta.
Mark Murphy is the editor of Inside the Auburn Tigers magazine and newsletter