*Courtesy Auburn Media Relations
AUBURN, Ala. – It’s not what first-year head coach Sunny Golloway or his players expected or wanted, but for now, it’s all they have.
No. 8 LSU, a 27-0 winner over Northwestern State in six innings Tuesday night, visits Plainsman Park Thursday night to start a three-game series. To get into the 12-team Southeastern Conference Tournament, Auburn must win one more game than Tennessee wins at home against Florida or one more game than Georgia wins at home against Kentucky.
The Tigers will have to do it without freshman pitching sensation Keegan Thompson, who is out for the season. Golloway said Thompson suffered a fracture when he took a line drive off his foot Sunday at Kentucky.
Tuesday night, Auburn beat UAB 6-5 when Jordan Ebert drew bases-loaded walk on four pitches in the bottom of the ninth.
“The number is four,” Golloway said. “Florida Gators. Auburn Tigers. We have to get four wins together. Seems reasonable, right?”
Auburn goes into weekend series at 28-25 overall and 10-17 in the SEC. LSU is 27-14 and 14-11. Golloway, who predicted before the season that the Tigers would be in Omaha for the College World Series, saluted his seniors for staying through hard times.
“Our seniors have had a tough go this year,” Golloway said. “They’ve showed a lot of character. They’ve been tough guys. I’ve never seen so many breaks go against them. I’m proud of this group. We’re not where we want to be, and they’re going to have to fight tooth and nail this weekend. Let’s hope some breaks go our way.”
Besides, Golloway still hasn’t given up on making it to Omaha, pointing out the Tigers could still win the SEC Tournament if they get in.
“I’m going to keep preaching Omaha until the day I die,” Golloway said. “Call me crazy, but this program deserves to be talked about going to Omaha.”
Senior centerfielder Ryan Tella, who has improbably emerged as a pitcher in the past two weeks, will likely play a key role against LSU. He could even, Golloway said, be a starter. Tella said he’s ready.
“It’s going to be a dogfight - all nine men, one pitch at a time,” Tella said. “Bulldog, blue-collar mentality is the only way we can go right now. I’ll take the ball against anyone. I’m not scared. I can go seven. There’s no doubt about that.”
Tella pitched for the first time in college last Tuesday against Bethune-Cookman. At Kentucky, he entered the game with the bases loaded and nobody out in the seventh inning and struck out three straight. Though he eventually took the loss on a walkoff, groundball single in the 10th inning, he dominated most of Kentucky’s hitters.
“A lot of people probably didn’t know I had pitching in me,” Tella said. “I was a pitcher my whole life until after high school. I went to junior college and decided just to swing the bat.”
Golloway said seniors Michael O’Neal and Dillon Ortman will be starters this weekend. He said is uncertain who the third starter will be.