The old stars were up to their familiar tricks, some new faces put their fingerprints on Plainsman Park, and Auburn completed a four-game sweep of Illinois-Chicago on Sunday.
Auburn baseball is back.
And the Tigers have swung into 2020 like a crack of the bat.
Auburn rolled up 11 runs in the fourth inning to win the series finale 14-0 Sunday, after sweeping a doubleheader Saturday and winning Friday’s season opener in front of a big crowd.
Senior catcher Matt Scheffler knocked in two RBI’s and scored two runs in that fourth inning alone as Auburn batted around the lineup, and as returners like him from the College World Series run a year ago mixing with newcomers like infielder Garrett Farquhar, who drove him in for the second time that inning, as well as designated hitter John Samuel Shenker from the football team, who raced across the plate just before Scheffler on Farquhar’s two-RBI single there in the fourth.
Auburn threw 14 pitchers on the weekend with all four starters earning wins and the staff combining for a 1.89 ERA with 29 strikeouts in 19 innings.
“I thought our guys played well. I don’t think there’s any glossing over that,” Auburn head coach Butch Thompson said after Sunday’s win in the series finale. “I think, offensively, what we’re doing a really good job of consistently was just staying on the attack the entire weekend.”
Auburn is 4-0 going into its next game Tuesday against Oakland at Plainsman Park.
Auburn, ranked as high as No. 6 in the preseason by Perfect Game, ultimately outscored Illinois-Chicago 44-7 over the weekend.
Sunday’s game was called early after the seventh inning due to Illinois-Chicago’s travel plans.
“It was a little different than Shelton State,” Farquhar said with a smile. Auburn’s junior college transfer started two games at second base this weekend. “There were a few more people in the crowd.
“But it was fun. We’ve got a bond in that locker room like no other so it was exciting to get out there with the team for the first time opening weekend.”
In all, eight position players and six pitchers made their Auburn baseball debut like him over the weekend.
“I think we were able to get a ton of guys in a game for the first time in an Auburn uniform, which was good for us,” Thompson said.
Auburn won Friday’s game 5-3 before cracking open the series with wins at 18-1 and 7-3 Saturday before the Tigers finished off the sweep Sunday.
Thompson said Auburn’s baserunning improved after the opening game, and that the team evaluated the strike zone “extremely well” all series.
Auburn’s winning pitchers were Tanner Burns, Jack Owen, Richard Fitts and Bailey Horn, in that order.
Auburn gave up those seven runs while giving up only two errors all weekend in the field.
“I feel like we’ve got a lot of depth with our arms,” Horn said, while saying that the performance gives the staff a lot of confidence. “Some young guys coming in for the first time, they stepped up and I think we just have a lot of depth with the staff.”
The weekend also marked the triumphant return to a game-day uniform for Auburn playing legend and new pitching coach Tim Hudson.
Horn said Hudson has passed down information from his experience already and has shown already that he knows to handle different pitchers differently in coaching, even in his first actual weekend as a pitching.
Thompson has seen that, too, from across the dugout.
“Tim has connected in a short period of time. I think it’s really hard coming in January — anywhere, whatever your role may be — but he’s pretty comfortable in the dugout,” Thompson said.
“Just a lot of things this first weekend where you play out and see how he handles it, how he communicates to the bullpen, when to take them in and when to take them out — it was good,” he added. “There’ll be some closer games that’ll challenge that a little bit more and we’ll learn something every game we play this year. But he looked like a natural to me is what I’d report from the first weekend.”
Tuesday’s game with Oakland is set for a 5 p.m. first pitch.
After that, Auburn will welcome UCF for a three-game weekend series at Plainsman Park starting Friday at 6 p.m.