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Dec 17, 2017
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  Baseball Looks For Success Under New Coach

It’s not often a baseball team has such an eventful offseason after making the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years, yet Auburn went through it and enters the 2016 season with a new coach.

Butch Thompson replaced Sunny Golloway, who was fired for allegedly violating NCAA rules — a story preserved to be much deeper than the public knows. Because of the circumstances surrounding Golloway’s firing, it came at a weird time, and Thompson wasn’t hired until late October.

Despite the late introduction, including missing all of fall camp, Thompson appears to be ready for the season, which opens Feb. 19 against Sacramento State.

Thompson has 23 years of collegiate coaching experience, including 13 years in the SEC. He spent the last seven years as Mississippi State’s pitching coach. He’s coached seven College World Series participants and won nine conference titles. In those seven years at MSU, Thompson was part of four NCAA regional trips, two Super Regional appearances, won the SEC and finished as the NCAA runner-up in 2013. Thompson’s pitching staffs finished with an ERA never higher than 3.06. His 2013 staff was one of two to finish top 10 nationally in ERA, strikeouts per nine innings and hits allowed per nine innings.

At Auburn, Thompson has his work cut out for him. The Tigers will be without pitchers Keegan Thompson and Kevin Davis, who will miss the entire 2016 season after they both had surgery. Also, Dalton Rentz was expected to get more starts in 2016, but he has been dismissed because of a violation of team rules.

Cole Lipscomb is returning after an 8-2 record in 2015, striking out 91 batters in 92 2/3 innings of work.

Justin Camp is another Auburn pitcher that played a big role last year and returns this spring. He made a team-high 28 appearances and developed into a solid closer. Camp had a 2.33 ERA and struck out 48 batters in 46 1/3 innings.

The Tigers could be stout offensively in 2016, returning stars like Anfernee Grier, Blake Logan and Damon Haecker.

It all starts with Grier, the leadoff hitter, who batted an astounding .323 in 2015 and added 22 stolen bases. Melvin Gray emerged as a similar-style player, batting .304 and stealing 18 bases on 21 attempts. If Grier and Gray can continue getting on base then swiping another, batters like Daniel Robert, Cody Nulph, Jordan Ebert and others can easily produce runs.

Two darkhorse guys to watch in 2016 are Logan and Haecker.

Haecker often finds his way on base, but it’s usually through walking — he had 40 in 2015. Logan, on the other hand, is a power hitter, but not a homerun hitter. The catcher hit 17 doubles last year and produced 28 RBIs.

Auburn finished the 2015 season with a 36-26 record, but went 13-17 in conference play. Expect this spring to have a similarly strong SEC field, which has produced a team in the College World Series final the past eight years.

Auburn opens the season against Sacramento State the weekend of Feb. 19. The SEC opener, a home series against Texas A&M, is scheduled March 18-20. The Tigers also host conference opponents LSU, Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi State. The SEC Tournament is scheduled to begin May 24, with the NCAA Regionals following June 3.

The Tigers have several noteworthy non-conference games, including against Georgia Tech (March 8), Oral Roberts (March 11-13), Alabama (Capital City Classic, March 29), Troy (May 10) and UAB (May 17).

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